Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

Disrupt or be disrupted: the original article + the response

SMW, October 16, 2013 10:59 PM


"His job appears to be to convince a generation of people
who want to do good and do well
to learn, instead, remorselessness.
Forget rules, obligations, your conscience, loyalty, a sense of the commonweal.
- Jill Lepore

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by C.J. Westerberg

A big sprawling wowapalooza article about innovation and disruption; even Clayton Christensen gets toppled off his throne. It's a necessary piece - one that I expect will get much traction - because the worship of disruption has been myopic, often driven by fear of being left out in the cold as opposed to considered choices.  Journalist Jill Lepore nails this sentiment via The New Yorker in The Disruption Machine.

While I think that most institutions need re-inventing of some sort (and I'm not playing semantics here), all change is not equal. Learning and the education business (two different things) are now front and center in the  innovation conversation. Sadly, many truly needed inventions may be lost by the hype machine wanting only what can be networked and scaled fast and furiously, as opposed to what may be valuable and worthwhile.

There are some great thoughts in Lepore's piece.  Here are two notable excerpts :

Most big ideas have loud critics. Not disruption.
Disruptive innovation as the explanation for how change happens has been subject to little serious criticism, partly because it's headlong,
while critical inquiry is unhurried;
partly because disrupters ridicule doubters by charging them with fogyism,
as if to criticize a theory of change were identical to decrying change;
and partly because, in its modern usage,
innovation is the idea of progress jammed into a criticism-proof jack-in-the-box.

And here is the social/cultural connection:

Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail.
It's not more than that.
 It doesn't explain change. It's not a law of nature. It's an artifact of history, an idea,
forged in time; it's the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty.
Transfixed by change, it's blind to continuity.
It makes a very poor prophet.

The upstarts who work at startups don't often stay at any one place for very long.
(Three out of four startups fail. More than nine out of ten never earn a return.)
They work a year here, a few months there - zany hours everywhere.
They wear jeans and sneakers and ride scooters and share offices and
sprawl on couches like Great Danes.
Their coffee machines look like dollhouse-size factories.

They are told that they should be reckless and ruthless.

Their investors, if they're like Josh Linkner, tell them that the world is a terrifying place,
moving at a devastating pace."Today I run a venture capital firm and back the next generation of innovators who are, as I was throughout my earlier career,
dead-focused on eating your lunch," Linkner writes.

His job appears to be to convince a generation of people who want to do good and
do well to learn, instead, remorselessness.
Forget rules, obligations, your conscience, loyalty, a sense of the commonweal.
If you start a business and it succeeds, Linkner advises, sell it and take the cash.
Don't look back. Never pause.
Disrupt or be disrupted.

But they do pause and they do look back, and they wonder.
Meanwhile, they tweet, they post, they tumble in and out of love, they ponder.
They send one another sly messages, touching the screens of sleek, soundless machines
with a worshipful tenderness.

  • Ian Hecht

    Yes, great article. My favourite piece:

    "Doctors have obligations to their patients, teachers to their students,
    pastors to their congregations, curators to the public, and journalists
    to their readers—obligations that lie outside the realm of earnings, and
    are fundamentally different from the obligations that a business
    executive has to employees, partners, and investors."

    So true.

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