Sunday, December 21, 2008

What is it with the word "Disruptive"?

Have you noticed that everything is "disrputive" lately? I've seen "disruptive" technologies all over. I've even seen some that claim to be both disruptive and supportive. Huh? To make things even more amusing our local PBS radio station has an underwriter that claims to be a "disruptive financial services firm", or something like that. Again I say, huh?

What is it about the word "disruptive" that has turned it into a marketing favorite lately? Doug H, if you're reading this, marketing is your bread and butter. Can you explain it?

From my perspective the term "disruptive" is generally bad, full of negative connotations. If someone is disruptive at a party you throw them out or call the police. If some bit of software I am working on is "disruptive" I am going to figure out how to shut it up (or down) so I can get on with the work I am trying to do.

This new use of disruptive probably started on the east coast somewhere and moved west. By now I suspect New Yorkers no longer use it... it's so last month. And the sooner it falls out of favor around here the better. If you claim to be a disruptive company, I'm not going to do business with you. Put that in your marketing pipe and smoke it!


  1. Hi, Jeff,
    I saw your Bat Beacon in the sky and had to respond... :-)

    My experience with "disruptive" isn't so much from a marketing perspective as it is from a venture capital perspective. There are two definitions (, one of which is the one you use: "to throw into disorder". But there's another valid one: "to interupt the normal course". This second one is the meaning used in the examples you give. I've seen it often in the phrase "disruptive technology" which Wikipedia defines as "a technological innovation that improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect" (

    Producing something new and unexpected can be a path to riches -- thus the VC connection.

    Using Google as a rudimentary popularity measure of uses of "disruptive", I find "disruptive behavior" at the top of all such phrases with 1,400,000 hits today but "disruptive technology" is a close second at 1,120,000.

    Want a topic for your next rant, er, thoughtful commentary? The third most popular use of "disruptive" is "disruptive publishers" at 901,000. I believe your use of the Internet's disruptive technology to blog about "disruptive" makes you a disruptive publisher, no?

    Merry Christmas

  2. Thanks Doug. It's good to know the Bat Beacon still works.

    I still contend the word is being overused (at best) and misused in many cases. Exactly how many really new financial products are created in a given year? As a result, how many financial services firms can honestly claim to be "disruptive"?

    I have no problems - as a rule - with doing something new and different, so long as you're not ruining someone else's day in the process. But calling everything disruptive, as is happening now in far too much marketing literature, is just plain silly.

    As for "disruptive publishers" I have no idea what that would mean. I don't think of myself as a publisher, let alone a disruptive one. Maybe I am one as a result of this blog and the other things that make up my web presence, but I'm not sure I buy that.

    Here's a topic for a different rant, though: what does it mean to claim that some organization is "independent"? What differentiates indepedent music lables from the big ones? Budget? Distribution channels? Sales figures? The same questions apply about independent film makers.

    And it gets fuzzier when you start talking about other things. What's an independent bookstore? Was Amazon an independent back when it was a startup? Why isn't it one now?

    I'm coming to the conclusion that "independent" is just as meaningless a word as "disruptive" now that the marketing people have taken it over.

    Now, if you're a disruptive independent...


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