50th St. Gallen Symposium "Freedom Revisited": 7–8 May 2020


What is disruption and why we shouldn’t be disturbed by it?

Is it fair to say that nobody likes change except for the change-makers? Disruption is a form of rapid, unforeseen or unexpected change. It’s a breakaway, a divergence from a familiar or expected course of action, process or pathway. Disruption disturbs us, because it is unfamiliar and we didn’t plan for it… or did we?

As human beings, we often use the saying “things are going my way” when we feel lucky. But is it really luck or that other saying about “preparation meeting opportunity” that really makes “things go our way”? Disruption is very similar to what we attribute to be luck. It requires meticulous preparation and the right opportunity in order to take place, otherwise it simply is a small pebble in the slow moving river of gradual change. And as such it wouldn’t be noticeable and it won’t disturb us!

But preparing for a major disruption takes time. Any self-respecting entrepreneur would tell you this. It also requires a vision and an ability to read the tea leaves, as anticipating the future necessitates understanding the present extremely well. Thus correctly identifying existing trends and flipping them on their heads to imagine what conditions it would take to make the counter true, is just one way to reinvent and innovate. This would not disturb us. We have imagined this change, therefore we can anticipate it.

Another approach to cause a disruption is to take an existing trend, rapidly speed it up and imagine what it would look like in let’s say the year 5777. Are we having team meetings via Skype or are 3D holograms of our colleagues from across the world sitting in the room with us? Should we be disturbed if the latter becomes true tomorrow and disrupts Skype’s operating model? No, because (1) we should never allow ourselves to fanaticize that change will not take place (It always does! We get older every year.) and (2) we listened, learned, understood the trend and changing needs of our target audience and imagined a possible future, before it took place. If anything, we should be more disturbed by what may appear to be constant, rather than by what changes and evolves. After all, the tighter we hold on to an object or idea in an effort to protect it, the more likely we are to crush it in our own grip.

[...] we should never allow ourselves to fanaticize that change will not take place [...]