Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Disruptive Technology or Innovation is Not a Myth

disruptive technology

This image is licensed through the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5). Source: Disruptive Technologies, McKinsey Global Institute.

The first paragraph in this post is part of the Pinhawk Librarian News Digest today – a daily email newsletter I edit.  What follows are my thoughts on the idea of disruptive technology/innovation being a myth.

Wikipedia defines disruptive innovation as “innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network – displacing an earlier technology.” Technologists refer this disruptive force when talking about how technology has changed the world. As luck has it, Ryan McClead writes about this type of innovation in his 3 Geeks and a Law Blog post,  The Myth of Disruptive Technology, making the point that waiting for the next disruptive innovation is a “fool’s errand.”

He’s right, waiting for the next shoe to drop is akin to waiting for the next big problem instead of strategically addressing issues along the way – so that shoe has no purpose in falling.  Ryan uses the story of Blockbuster and Netflix to demonstrate how Netflix’s strategy displaced Blockbuster and states that the streaming media technology was not a disruptive force but one that displaced video rental companies over time.

Here’s where we part ways in our agreement over his idea of it being a myth.  The fact is that streaming media was-is a disruptive innovation/technology. It took time to displace video rental stores like Blockbuster – time where Blockbuster could have moved to a streaming media model that would have saved their business.  Like libraries, where one might consider saving the books rather than moving to digital makes sense, not doing anything is what closed their business and will close libraries that don’t take some type of action.

Streaming media didn’t stop with video stores. There are now predictions that cable networks might suffer the same defeat as streaming media has already displaced their use among millennials and even baby boomers who love their streaming media (including me).  I pay $7.99/month for streaming media vs. my cable bill which is close to $100.  At the very least, I could drop part of my cable subscription.  How long this will take, no one knows.  Will cable make the same mistake of doing nothing but waiting for the inevitable? Hopefully not.  Is there a parallel here with law firms and libraries?  Definitely.

The thing about disruptive technology/innovation is that it doesn’t happen overnight (although some iPhone execs would disagree).  When you learn about a new innovation or a technology and recognize that it is a threat to your business/function if you don’t do anything, you have time to act.  Perhaps not much time but time, nonetheless.  The hard part is recognizing the threat and then being strategic in addressing it.  That alone is why companies, firms, libraries, etc. tend to do nothing – much like a deer in headlights.

What should you do instead?  That’s another post entirely. In the meantime, you might want to check out books like The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business.