Please Do Not Disrupt

When someone uses the word "disrupt," it's typically referring to something negative:

  • The accident disrupted traffic.
  • The protests disrupted the election.
  • The crying baby disrupted my sleep.

But in the business world, particularly in the world of tech-minded entrepreneurs, "disrupt" has flipped to mean something positive, as these news articles attest:

Wired magazine held the Disruptive by Design conference earlier this year, while another conference called TechCrunch Disrupt is an annual event.

"Disrupt" in this context is about shaking things up in order to create new opportunities. For example, one could say that Netflix disrupted the video store business model. Certainly, a lot of money can be made by those who disrupt industries. (Likewise, a lot of money can be lost by those whose livelihoods are disrupted).

Unlike many buzzwords, this one's meaning is not entirely hollow, but it still needs to be regarded with suspicion. The popularity of "disrupt" exemplifies the tech world's endless and breathless excitement for the next big transformative thing, which seems to flop as often as not.