Technology: Disruption or Path to Freedom?

Written by Cecilia Sepp on July 27, 2016

Disruption. It’s a buzz word that is widely circulating, and I think people are misusing it, and even worse, overreacting to it. Panic is ensuing over this word “disruption” when what we’re really identifying is the latter stage of a trend that started years ago.

What some call disruption, I call the logical result of actions or events. The end point is something that can be anticipated and sometimes predicted; thus, we can plan for a variety of outcomes. We can be prepared, to a certain extent, for what is heading right at us.

As long as we are looking. But that means you have to pay attention.

However, most of us don’t pay attention to what is going on around us. This prevents us from identifying connections and trends, and we miss the opportunity to anticipate the end result. That’s why it seems disruptive: we weren’t looking, so the impact can be harsh.

Disruption causes REACTION, not action. It’s disruptive because you are not prepared.

Knowing that something is coming – and something is always coming—is the first step. Then, take the time to consider how it will affect you and your organization, what will change, and when it could change. And the most important question: Why are you waiting for disruption when you could be acting to get ahead of the wave?

How do you get prepared? How can you identify trends and act rather than react? Start by reading the news every day – and read several sources. Make sure you understand what’s going on in the world and try to link things together. It’s the old exercise of “Chaos Theory” written across your environment: how does the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in France affect the corn crop in Nebraska? Or: how does the downturn in the Chinese economy affect your member’s decision to renew?

Let’s take an example from the the type of disruption that is typically considered unpredictable: natural disasters. For many, the 2006 Pangandaran earthquake that caused the tsunami in Indonesia came out of nowhere.

Or did it?

If you were paying attention to the news, there had been a series of earthquakes in the Eastern Hemisphere – all following the fault line leading to Indonesia. The volcanologists knew that the fault lines on the tectonic plates were going to cave massively at some point – the questions were where, when, and how bad would it be? It was like musical chairs; they just didn’t know who was going to be in the chairs and who was going to be standing when the music stopped

And then a country was devastated. THAT’S disruption.

Despite the fact that we saw it coming, many acted as if it was a devastating surprise. But it wasn’t a surprise if you were paying attention. While we couldn’t predict the final outcome, we could be prepared for a series of possible end points. We could know we would have to make decisions quickly and alter plans in response to the changes this disruption brought. We could plan to move relief efforts to the Eastern side of the planet; we could collect food and water supplies; we could evaluate the power systems.

In other words, we could be somewhat prepared and ready to act (instead of react).

So why is everyone so panicked about what is being called “technological disruption”? What is there to fear with equipment, software, and connections, which are all things we can ultimately control?

Remember when social media first hit society? True, it was a startling impact because of the speed of communication and connection. The possibilities made us dizzy. Individuals (as opposed to organizations or governments) became the creator and controller of their own content for likely the first time in human history. To me, this was a good thing. It was the tradition of the Citizen Journalist in the internet era.

On social media, you can decide when to connect with people and when not to. You can put a hashtag in your post or choose not to. In fact, we arguably have a lot more control with social media than with something like the broadcast fax. Remember when that was considered the next big thing? But we thought that was cool, not disruptive. What’s more disruptive than sending thousands of faxes across the country (and maybe the world) by dialing one phone number?

We decide when and what to adopt. We decide how to engage with social media. We choose the tools and decide how to apply them. Sure, there are threats online like Russian spammers, Chinese hackers, and ransomware from all around the globe – but we are aware of them and can take steps to handle it.

So how is that disruptive, especially when many people go on to live full and happy lives without ever sending a Tweet, or knowing that celebrities like to flame each other on their Twitter accounts?

We choose the technology we want to use. Yes, we are in an environment where it changes in spurts and seems to be rapid, but how many more versions of Tumblr do you think are waiting in the wings? Remember Web Crawler? I didn’t think so.

Technology is not disruptive. Technology moves us forward. It is a tool, nothing more and nothing less. The one who wields it decides its impact. For example, the iPhone has gotten slimmer, lighter, and so powerful that I can run my entire organization through it. So how exactly is that disruptive? In my opinion, it’s actually freeing.

If you embrace the world you’re in instead of fighting it – or worse, fearing it—then things aren’t going to be disruptive. They will be evolutionary, and if you play your cards right, maybe even REVOLUTIONARY.