“Our Technology is Disruptive”

I sense a rise in popularity of a buzzword / phrase in entrepreneurial circles. It’s the entrepreneur’s elevator pitch including the catch-all: “Our technology is very disruptive.”

Whoop-de-do. Most of us have read or heard of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive technology.

The problem is people are throwing around “disruptive” as if it has inherent meaning as a word. But it is not terribly helpful by itself in terms of understanding what the technology actually is or does. For an elevator pitch, better to show not tell: what’s a quick anecdote or story that illustrates how your technology is going to upend the status quo in industry X?

So yes, we know your technology is disruptive, your revenue numbers are conservative, and you have a team of rock star engineers. Let’s get to the meat!

3 Responses to “Our Technology is Disruptive”

  1. Cal says:

    I tend to define “meaning” in a strict information theoretic sense.

    That is: an adjective has meaning if it can distinguish between two or more non-trivial categories.

    For example, saying your business idea is “solid” or “smart” is meaningless. Presumably, in the context of an investor pitch, you would never categories your own idea as “weak” or “dumb.” Therefore, the adjective added zero bits of information.

    “Disruptive,” however, does clearly distinguish between categories. It’s possible that my technology idea is non-disruptive. (For example, I’m simply improving something everyone uses.)

    By saying my idea is “disruptive” I have distinguished between two outcomes and thus communicated a bit of information.

    My point being that it’s certainly as meaningful as any other binary distinguisher (“old” vs. “young,” “east coast” vs. “west coast”).

    But I do follow your conclusion that perhaps, too many entrepreneurs fail to follow-up this proposed (meaningful) categorization with appropriate evidence.

    Assuming, however, that someone explains their technology and its impact well, I certainly wouldn’t fault them for also using the word “disruptive.” It provides a structure to evidence that follows.

    [Clearly, I’m way too bored with the work I am supposed to be doing right now]

  2. C.C. means something very specific when he says an innovation is disruptive. He means that the innovation is a product that in its current state appeals to a different set of customers than the pre-existing products, and that the pre-existing products may in fact be better at serving the current customer base. As technology progresses, however, the disruptive innovation may displace the pre-existing products even with the current customer base.

    Since it’s a somewhat complicated definition, it’s usually lost in the translation. Most people say “disruptive” in order to say “huge” or “we’re much better” or “we’ll kick their ass”.

    Not at all the same thing.

  3. Krishna says:

    Venture Capitalists are to blame.

    They declare their avowed preference to ventures backed by brilliant teams that come up with `disruptive technology’.

    That’s it. Now every venture/idea gets disruptive. Even if it is ruffling up a perfect status quo that needs no change.

    I think you split your hair too much over its definition.

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