Disruption: What happens when disruptors get disrupted?

Author — Sam Macklin

Amid the constant evolution of the application economy, disruption can come from the unlikeliest of places.

Comedians love cheap shots. Right now, one of the easiest laughs to be had is at the expense of Web-native businesses that are perceived as being dead-in-the-water. Mention Ask Jeeves or Myspace to a tipsy audience and you’re onto a winner. Done right though, a joke on this theme can be used to satirize the hubris displayed by today’s tech giants―the digital disruptors who seem invincible in the knowledge that they are the future and they always will be.

Here’s the thing: funny as it now seems, Myspace was once the future.

Disruption is not a one-time deal

As I pointed out in a recent post about blockchain technology, the application economy is all about continuous cycles of disruption. Fail to react proactively to one of these cycles and you’ll fall behind. Of course, the digital giants know this, and that’s one reason companies like Google and Facebook are more than willing to shell out billions of dollars to acquire and absorb innovative start-ups.

There’s a conundrum here. The start-up you’d really want to acquire would be the one that was so disruptive that you didn’t see it coming and couldn’t react quickly enough when it suddenly appeared on the scene. Whether such a beast could exist is a matter for debate. The fact remains that no matter how dominant your company seems, it could theoretically get disrupted into insignificance.

The high street disrupts Amazon

A recent TechCrunch article on new developments in retail does a great job of illustrating this. It reminds us that what we now call “disruption” is less a product of digital and more a constant rule of business. Nevertheless, the article makes it clear that technology is historically the key enabler of disruption―it was widespread automobile ownership that allowed brick-and-mortar retail to disrupt the door-to-door sales model.

More recently, tech made it possible for ecommerce to disrupt brick-and-mortar retail. Amazon was the big winner here, to the point that it now seems utterly disruption-proof. But according to the article, recent innovations that empower high street retail to make extremely engaging use of mobility might pose a significant threat to this dominance. Because in-person engagement creates a certain type of experience the virtual realm can’t (yet) emulate.

Get ready to be disrupted

So, even the most powerful, tech-centric company can be disrupted by innovation and this disruption might actually come from the “old world”, even the very place that bore the brunt of the previous wave of disruption. But just as it would be ridiculous to claim Amazon had made real-world retail obsolete, it would be foolish to assume that Amazon is not able to create yet-more engaging customer experiences.

Whether Amazon can respond effectively will depend on its ability to leverage the next wave of technology to create these experiences―the work of Enjoy could provide them with some pointers. And beyond this specific example, the lesson here is that, to remain competitive, companies need to be looking for the new digital opportunities (and threats!) that are constantly emerging in the application economy.

Beyond that, you’ll also need to have the organizational and technical infrastructure in place necessary to respond quickly and effectively. Of course, implementing the necessary changes might cause a few sore heads among your business managers and IT architects. Even in the most tech-focused companies, these folks might be a little stuck in their ways. But in the age of digital disruption, nobody escapes unscathed.

Originally published at blogs.ca.com on August 16, 2016.