Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

You can't get there from here -- a phrase that helps define disruption

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 29, 2006

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

CantGetThere.jpgI love this American saying, "You can't get there from here," I'm told it comes from Maine. It seems to make no sense but when you need to use it--it makes perfect sense.

I find myself thinking of the phrase more and more these days. It's because I see companies and people defending dying business models because they are still profitable. And because the new business models are not yet formed.

That means an organization can't jump to the new business models because it doesn't recognize that there is a big change happening in its industry; or it can see it happening but cannot jump to the new business models because the new cannot support the old cost structures.

For example, that's what I see happening in the PR industry, which sees itself carrying on business as usual and defending its traditional methods of PR, with no threat to its business from new communications methods such as blogging.

While in the media sector, media companies can see the writing on the wall but they cannot jump over to become new media companies. Because the new media business models are too flimsy to support the old cost structures.

In both cases, "You can't get there from here." You have to be a new company you have to be a new rules company.

Is internet a disruptive technology?

"You can't get there from here," also helps to define a "disruptive technology." I define a disruptive technology as something which companies do not see coming, when they see it they pooh pooh it, then they grudgingly accept it, then they can't do anything about it.

A disruptive technology is like seeing the car crash in slow motion, it is seeing the train wreck happening right in front of you--and you can't get out of the way.

PC was disruptive

That's what the PC did to the minicomputer and mainframe companies of the East Coast. They laughed at the PC, then when the train wreck started they couldn't get out of the way, yet they could see it coming.

It took down all those minicomputer companies etc, and it nearly took down IBM forcing it to reinvent itself as a services company.

Now that's a disruptive technology! Don't you think that the internet is a disruptive technology? It's a very powerful technology, more powerful than the PC. But where is the disruption?

All the tech companies that made it through the PC revolution are pretty much still there. The disruption is in the media sector--the internet is a publishing technology.

Now, with blogging, we've connected up the other end of the internet. Now, you can publish to any device with a web browser. Now, any device with a web browser can publish back.

This is why this really is a new internet and this is why there will be lots of disruption of media companies.

Oh, and by the way: every company today is a media company to some degree. Because every company publishes and tells stories, to itself, to its customers, to its community, to its new hires. An organization is not much more than its stories--that's the content. (And you can think of business processes as stories too.)

And those stories had better be good, truthful stories, and they had better be compelling stories. That's the new media--that's the new communications.

If you've understood this post, and I've helped you see the internet in a new way, then you are now six to nine months months ahead of the game--and you owe me at least a dinner :-)

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