This disruption thing, is it for me?

There’s so much talk about the need to disrupt this, that and the other. But let’s face it, if everyone was disrupting all the time, then no one would get anything done. And not only that, but the likelihood of disruption actually happening is very small.

In discussing disruption, I find it handy to revert to what my actual background is, namely the arts. The famous (in some circles, granted, it’s not like he’s Derrida) French philosopher Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard discusses a theory of metanarratives. These are stories around which stories can be written. Or even more simple, the rules one can use to play a game.

Why is this relevant?

Because disruption = the creation of a new metanarrative.

Smartphones are a new metanarrative because they created a whole new space within which our actions could take place. Creators, developers and marketers found themselves a whole new game they could play, in taking their products and offerings to this new platform. Taking a quote from Forrester (and I’d link directly to them if they had made it possible for me to even find the original rather than just read about it … sigh …) mobile is an “anti-channel” because it breaks down boundaries between existing channels.

Technologies such as WAP had served more as extensions to phones, but inconveniences such as small screens, slow connections and long battery life (wait, what?) meant that they never had the breakthrough which might otherwise have been possible. And, indeed, as was imagined.

The internet wasn’t so much a metanarrative as the first Mosaic browser was, because up until that point, only a handful of people could access the web, but with an easy to use, point and click browser, everyone was online (right, so obviously not everyone, and yes, that’s a very Western-centric way to put it, but you get my point).

And you might think I could go on and on. Well, I couldn’t actually, because that’s the entire point of metanarratives. They are few and far between!

Liberalism, Marxism, post-modernism, these are metanarratives.

Tesla making an electric sports car is not a metanarrative. Tesla building batteries to power a house? Now we’re talking!

So put this in a business/technology context. What are the odds that what you’re working on will go off and create an entirely new space that will enable/force the masses to work in a different way? Probably not very high.

So embrace it! If you can’t create your own game, there is absolutely no shame in being the best at following the rules others have created. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are amazing footballers, but they haven’t disrupted the game. Still, aiming for that level of mastery for yourself and your business isn’t exactly a bad thing.

Just, please, don’t go calling every little idea you have or app you create or conference you facilitate something about DISRUPTION!

(If you’re still reading, it’s of course worth pointing out that Lyotard actually believes that with the postmodern condition, we’re losing faith in metanarratives as a whole. I think he might have had to rethink that stance with regards to modern technology. Metanarratives have become far more democratic and practical whereas he, from his ivory tower, only really saw them as intellectual exercises. But that’s just my opinion …)