Disruption Is Overrated

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

“Move fast and break things.”

This, in a nutshell, is the mantra of the startup movement, and is a seemingly inviolable law of Silicon Valley.

Ask someone what the quote is about, and they’ll tell you it’s all about “disruption.” This is actually a short-form of “disruptive innovation,” a theory developed by Clayton Christensen of Harvard University, and popularized in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma. And while disruptive innovation started life as simply one model or approach to innovating, it’s quickly evolved to be the only game in town. If you’re not disrupting, it would seem, then you’re just not innovating.

There’s more than a little reinterpretation here, of course. And some assumptions and principles that are worthwhile revisiting.

For starters, disruption isn’t normally viewed as a positive word. Look it up in the dictionary (I did) and you’ll get “to break apart; to throw into disorder; to interrupt the normal course or unity of something.” If we think about that in the course of our normal lives, those aren’t actions that strike us as terribly appetizing or appealing. They imply pain and being upset and discomfort. The journey that involves disruption is not going to be a pleasant one.

So how did we get to disruption being the rallying cry of …

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