The Essence of Disruption

Here’s Quincy Smith, who was the head of digital content at CBS at the time, talking about traditional media’s response to Google and the digital revolution (from Googled by Ken Auletta):

Your problem is that traditional media is sitting in a castle. If you ask them to run outside in the middle of a rain of arrows and go down a river and cross a bog to go up a hill to get to what we don’t know is over there, we can’t assure them it is out of arrow range. No promises. Facing that option, traditional media is going to stay in the castle. And what’s going to happen to the castle? Those arrows are going to turn into catapults. You have to do something to escape. You can be good in television and radio. But you’re a media guys. Don’t you want to be good online? It’s a new medium. And aren’t you better than those geeks in Mountain View? Right now they’re kicking your ass!”

That’s a pretty good description of the innovator’s dilemma. The point that Clayton Christenson makes about it is that not reacting to the threat is the rational response. When you’re just facing a rain of arrows, the certainty of the castle is preferable to the uncertainty of the dash across the bog.

The problem is, that most of the people in the castle are assuming that the arrows are all they will ever face – that once the invaders realise that the arrows won’t work, they’ll give up.

Usually, though, they don’t. They wheel out the catapults and trebuchets. And by the time you’re ready to give up the castle, it’s too late.

It’s never easy to face massive disruption within your market – especially if you’re powerful and well-entrenched. It makes reacting hard.

Overall, though, I still think you’re better off trying to shape the market yourself. Innovation is the way to stay out in front – to keep yourself from getting stuck in the castle.

Funny note: the picture is me at the castle where this was filmed:

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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