Disruptors get attention. Because they are new and different. Or they appear to be. AND because historically we have praised and honored successful disruptors, especially those of the recent past.
Disruptors are often greeted with skepticism—rightly so in many cases. Because their ideas are too outlandish. Or because they don’t live up to their promises. Current examples include Theranos and Lending Club.
But sometimes… a few believers join a disruptor’s cause and the fever spreads. Investors bring cash. Media give airtime and column space.
Innovators or Repackagers?
Disruptors may or may not be innovators. They often take ideas from other sources and reconfigure or refine them. Donald Trump’s proposed wall is not unlike the wall built centuries ago in China or the fictional one that protects the north on Game of Thrones.
Bernie Sanders’ socialist ideas are not new. But his message has resonated with young people who haven’t heard that message in their lifetimes and with older Americans who haven’t heard those ideas touted in the U.S. in nearly half a century.
Steve Jobs did not design or construct the first Mac, the iPod or the iPhone. He DID supervise their development and demand they deliver solid function along with graceful form. And he was a master promoter.
Classic Disruptors: Uber, Blackberry, iPhone, Social Channels
Disruptors often ignore what is legal. Look at Uber’s and Airbnb’s disregard for local ordinances across the U.S. and the world. This has not been a problem for Uber users who have found the service preferable to their local taxis.
Disruptors need to continually refine their product, whether that product is an idea or a hard good. The Blackberry was a big disruptor in the late 90s and early 00s, but its makers’ efforts to update and adapt failed. The “must have” item of 15 years ago now rests atop the tech junk heap. Meanwhile, the great disruptor of 2007, the iPhone, has continually improved its features and its sales.
We’ve seen Facebook and Instagram work to stay fresh. Twitter is making big changes. An outlier is Craigslist, a major disruptor that has made few revisions during its existence.
Why We Should Appreciate Disruptors
Disruptors, successful or not, are valuable to our professional and personal lives because they offer up new ideas and concepts that we may have never considered. Or, if we considered them, we found them too unrealistic to have merit. Circumstances such as time and market conditions may prevent today’s disruptor from gaining traction, but that same concept may return later and become a hit.
More importantly, disruptors force those who have become leaders in a category to keep their eyes and ears open to those who want to take their places. That’s why the brightest leaders pay close attention to all who would challenge their status.
For marketing pros (ad, PR, social, etc.), communicating a disruptor’s story to target audiences can be both exhilarating and frustrating. On one hand, the new/fresh/different thing may be easier to pitch. On the other hand, if the thing is too far from the norm, it may be quickly dismissed.