On Disruption

On Disruption
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In Webster’s, the definition of the phrase “to disrupt” is as follows: “to drastically alter or destroy the structure of something, as in ‘alcohol can disrupt the chromosomes of an unfertilized egg.’” Synonyms are words like these: distort, damage, buckle, and warp.

It happens that one of the most important phrases used to describe current business innovation is this same “to disrupt.” Anyone who knows of the aggressive use of new business ideas to destroy the purveyors of competitive ideas, or more importantly to enable the ruinous takeovers of new inventive companies by others for the purpose of appropriating technologies that they themselves did not have the imagination to invent, will recognize the term “to disrupt.” It’s often a matter of what is called “corporate consolidation,” a bland-enough term, one would think. Harmless. Sensible. The disruption involved, though, comes about with a satisfied grumble of self-congratulation and triumph from those in senior management who have destroyed something else for their own benefit.

But disruption does no one any good when it comes to the advancement of ideas and of the heart. All it does is destroy. Yes, you get to pump up your chest when you’ve gotten rid of available fresh thinking and imagination. But because there is little attention given to cooperative back and forth, the sharing of ideas, or the furtherance of the human soul, disruption is a rejection of that soul and a thumbing of the nose at it.

This is also, of course, a distinctly male undertaking. And although the phrase “to disrupt” is the current business terminology of choice, it comes from a very traditional idea: the development of monopolies, trusts, and so on. Fascist governments and the like. We even now have a disruption of the entire weather system, thanks to industrial aggressiveness and wholesale disinterest on the part of certain current governments in a proven scientific truth.

Disruption diminishes us. We are less human, less thoughtful, less innovative when it takes place because it serves the interest only of the disruptor. And these days, disruption seems to be a form of universal truth, accepted at most levels of business society. Opportunities for it are to be sought out and realized. So, your having succeeded in disrupting the competition is an accomplishment of great value, for which congratulation is in order. You are celebrated when you have destroyed them. You will be ushered into some hall of fame or other for having done that. You are the man of the hour, and perhaps one day you’ll run for president, and disrupt democracy.

Terence Clarke is co-founder and director of publishing at Astor & Lenox. His new story collection, New York, will be published on November 1.

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