Wicked Disruption: Start with Something Great and Defy It

I was recently approached by my colleague E.J. McGuire, after he read a particular Front and Centered post called “Lions and Tigers and Data, A.I.,” which explored the growing world of artificial intelligence and asked the question, friend or foe? I love that it caused conversation, like the one I had with E.J. That is my number one goal for the blog community. But even better, I asked E.J. if he would share his unique perspective and contribute to the community through a guest post. Lucky for me (and all of you) he said yes! His very creative thinking on the notion of “Wicked Disruption” follows. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did, and thank you E.J. for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Disruption1 [dis-ruhp-shuh n] noun

  1. Forcible separation or division into parts
  2. Business – a radical change in an industry, business strategy, etc., especially involving the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market (primary use below)

The word and the notion of disruption have the professional consciousness under its spell. Across industries, from finance to tech, medicine to education, many want to harness what they believe is a nearly magical power. Though not limited to the tech sector, the success of recent disruptors the likes of Uber, Tesla and AirBnB keep the concept in our broader and collective zeitgeist. Disruptive ideas and the disruption they create can be seen all around; you only need to know how and where to look.

Disruptors become noteworthy for the big ideas that challenge what we previously believed to be absolute. Most great ideas start with an existing great idea, and then disrupt classic notions of how it should behave. I was inspired by a recent post in Front and Centered called Lions and Tigers and Data, A.I.! After reading this post and the articles it referenced, I began to frame my own thinking around a “wicked” approach to disruptive thinking.

Wicked2 [wik-id] adjective

  1. Evil or morally bad in principle or practice; sinful; iniquitous
  2. Slang – wonderful; great; masterful; deeply satisfying (primary use below)

The story of Wicked (both novel and musical) disrupts the classic tale of the Wizard of Oz in two ways:

  1. It disrupts the narrative by telling the story from the perspective of the villain, the Wicked Witch of the West.
  2. It disrupts the story by making the iconic villain the protagonist of her own story.

Wildly popular now, one can only imagine how it first played out as a “Hollywood pitch:”  “It’s the Wizard of Oz, but from the witch’s eyes, AND she’s the hero!”

I think about this notion of the “Hollywood pitch” and how it could relate to the concept of disruption in the world of business. The “pitch” — often criticized as a lazy exercise — is used to convey and develop a new movie idea. Typically, a previous great movie (“It’s Goodfellas…”) is taken and applied in a new (“…in space!”) or unusual (”…but with animated dogs!”) manner.

There is an old Hollywood tale about a young James Cameron famously pitching the sequel to the horror movie Alien.  Standing in front of a group of producers, he simply wrote the word “Alien” on a board. He then drew an “s” at the end, surveyed the room, and drew two lines through the “s”… “Alien$.

Let’s apply this process to non-movie ideas, and imagine similar pitches for recent great disruptors as a thought exercise.

  • Uber – “Ok, we all like Grubhub. People love food from premium restaurants, but they don’t deliver. Now they get food from their favorite spot, ordered from their phone and updated with statuses along the way. Well, what if you could have that same experience, but with a limo?”
  • Netflix – “HBO creates and distributes all this great content, but you need to have cable and a TV. What if instead of either you only needed the internet and a computer? Better yet, what if you only needed your smartphone? Imagine having HBO on the beach?!?!”
  • Twitter – “People love blogs, especially celebrity blogs. People love the speed and ease of texting. What if you could blog to the world via texting from wherever you go about whatever you see or do?!”

So, what is the next big pitch?

  • 3D Printing – “Print with plastic or metal instead of ink and paper!?”
  • Blockchain – “Everyone is a customer and the bank!?”
  • Internet of Things – “Your washer, fridge and doorbell all talk to each other!?”

Disruptive ideas and the disruptors that unleash them are all around us. They can be scary or wonderful, depending merely on your perspective. If we take a moment to experience a little “wicked disruption” ourselves, we may be able to see them. And if we are creative enough, brave enough or dare I say, wicked enough, we can be disruptors too. Then maybe we’ll have the opportunity, like they do, to be seemingly defying gravity.

1 – Dictionary.com

2 – Dictionary.com, New England