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


Whose turn is it to disrupt?

Deadpool has been one of the biggest surprise movie hits of the year. A superhero movie which had purposefully excluded a supposedly key demographic, it was expected to underperform. Yet it became the most successful movie of its kind, lauded with both critical and commercial acclaim. In its wake producers and studios have been left floundering, highlighting a significant problem with how many companies are approaching disruption.

We have always had disruptive technologies. Any significant advance disrupts the previous status quo. The Iron Age disrupted the Bronze Age. The semiconductor disrupted the vacuum tube. True disruption comes from identifying a new or more innovative solution to an existing problem. In the past these technological advances have occurred over time due to the need for information and materials to be disseminated. Due to this extended time frame, there was opportunity for many to become established and compete against one another. 

However with our current leap in communication ability and the rise of Industry 4.0, the current climate has become far more time dependent. New technologies are invented and brought to market in a matter of months. This decrease in time between concept and reality has led to a growing panic. It is becoming increasingly common for the first brand to become synonymous with a technology to dominate the field leaving established businesses and subsequent newcomers alike struggling to compete. 

In order to avoid being superseded, established businesses are increasingly looking to generate or acquire disruptive technologies at the earliest possible stage. Regrettably, their approach, in many cases, leaves much to be desired. Their strokes are often too broad, attempting to co-opt existing technology and practices which proved disruptive in other fields in order to obtain similar benefits. In effect they are striving to put the cart before the horse. 

In the aftermath of Deadpool, upcoming films have sought to garner some of its success with the addition of an R-rating. Unfortunately Deadpool's success was not solely based on a rating. Similarly disruption for disruption's sake will never drive a complete shift in the status quo. Disruptive advances come from a desire to solve a problem, often a problem most don't realise exists, with a novel solution. There is a reason disruption most often comes from a newcomer. Disruption will never come from someone in a boardroom asking “So how will we disrupt this month?”

Similarly disruption for disruption's sake will never drive a complete shift in the status quo.


Hey Mark,

A brilliant perspective indeed, however there are many key things that intrigue me as I think of ideas that can successfully disrupt and solve an existing crises, one being can, 'Can a disruptive idea actually be an existing solution that is already implemented but not been scaled up successfully?'