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Disruptive Selection: Nature's Way of Weeding Out the Average Business
Posted on June 14th 2013
It’s everywhere. I live in Silicon Valley where many say that the terms disrupt and disruption have become buzzwords. Pundits believe that the word is losing its promise and impact through the acts and examples of entrepreneurs and businesses that misuse the word to describe intentions rather than associating it with a desired or natural effect.
In some of the startup meetings I attend for example, digital disruption is actually a stated business objective. Instead of “killing it” or “crushing it” many businesses are aiming now to disrupt it!
Kidding aside, disruption is more than a buzzword of course. It is a term that is becoming an important part of everyday business to describe what is happening to and around markets and ultimately companies everywhere. While it may be a genuine goal, disruption is the act of disturbing or interrupting the norm and its effect is measured by the the following series of events that unfold.
Like it or not, disruption is a natural part of life. I refer to this phenomenon as Digital Darwinism, when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to adapt. Every so often something comes along and completely upsets the norm. And this is only accelerating. Either you’re disrupting or you’re at risk of getting disrupted.
Continuing the Digital Darwinism metaphor, businesses, like nature itself, are open to natural selection. One of the three common forms of natural selection (including directional and stabilizing selection) that I’d like to explore is that of disruptive selection, which selects against the mean of the population. Adapting the definition to suit the purpose of this discussion, disruptive selection singles out average businesses in any given population making room for speciation, the formation of new and distinct species in the inevitable course of evolution.
In my research on disruptive selection, I found several references to London’s peppered moths. H.B.D. Kettlewell, an English physician set out to study the unexplained color variations of the peppered moth in the 1950s. Kettlewell set out to better understand why in the industrialized areas of Britain, the peppered moth population evolved from light gray-colored individuals to that of primarily of dark gray species. In rural areas, the peppered moths were predominately light in color. Kettlewell learned that darker moths survived predators in the industrial areas by blending in to polluted environments. The lighter moths stood out and were seen easily by predators. In rural areas, the opposite would occur.
In the realm of digital disruption, disruptive selection opens the door to creative destruction, which is set to unleash up every industry imaginable. As Joseph Schumpeter noted in, “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” published in 1942, creative destruction is the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. Said another way, there’s always going to be instances where new kills old or the the old evolves into something new.
Let’s take Uber for example as a form of disruptive selection. Who here loves taking taxis? I’m often in San Francisco and New York and the experience that I have is often poor. Cars don’t stop to pick you up. When they do, cars are often dirty, drivers are frequently less than pleasant, and the goal of getting from point A to B is generally by way of creative way points.
As a result, I’m a big fan of Uber as is anyone who uses the service.
For those unaware of Uber, it was founded in 2009 by Garrett Camp, Travis Kalanick and Oscar Salazar as an on-demand mobile platform that connects passengers to available drivers. The app shows passengers available cars, the distance/time to them, an estimated price based on their destination and an integrated payment system so that you can simply step out of the vehicle rather than doing the oft uncomfortable dance of remittance. More importantly, Uber introduces a human touch, giving passengers the ability to rate drives and also learn more about each driver and the experiences other Uber users have shared for each. This is important because it introduces a shift in the value proposition.
Each time I get into an Uber car, I interview the driver to learn more about why they use Uber. The story is often the same. As you would guess, money is part of the equation, but so is service. Each driver has their own process of greeting passengers and ensuring that their ride is clean, pleasant and personalized. Those who don’t get it…don’t get it and it’s clear in their reviews. PASS!
At a minimum through, Uber offers black car or luxury car operators to expand their customer base when their in between jobs. The price is often comparable to that of a standard cab and as you can imagine taxi operators are not in love with Uber. Essentially, Uber is disrupting the taxi industry and this has regulators up in arms as they flail to protect their way of life.
Rather than fixing the taxi industry’s problems or setting out to improve passenger experiences, regulators and officials instead cry foul and attempt to block Uber in each city it introduces. WTF!? If anything, that’s a response worthy of Digital Darwinism and a strong example of disruptive selection in action. If you have a choice, the decision is easy. And over time, unless the taxi industry innovates to compete, companies such as Uber and Sidecar will at come point become the norm. To date, Uber is now in 29 cities internationally and was recently awarded Fast Company’s “2013 Most Innovative Company in Mobile.”
Disruption eventually gives way to models and templates for others to follow. Eventually however, disruption evolves into business as usual until it is disrupted again through a process of disruptive selection. Reacting to disruption may already be too late. Setting out to improve experiences and outcomes and finding innovative ways to do so is your only answer. And, this is something that becomes part of everyday business.
Setting out to disrupt markets is commendable, but to compete for the future takes more than intent to disrupt, it takes vision to see what others cannot and perseverance to do what others cannot or will not. The best investment you can make in business is the quality and experience of your product for it is the experience that people will document and share. In a connected economy, those shared experiences become the trusted leverage other consumers seek to make informed decisions.
Every threat has its antagonist. Disruption is only thwarted, or also fueled by, innovation.