Let it be known that I’m 100% NOT against what we refer to as disruptive innovation or digital disruption. This is my bag, I’m in it, I’m a player, woo! Innovation is what excites me about my job and gets me out of bed in the morning.
But before we get carried away we need to have a word with ourselves and remember the meaning of disruption. According to OxfordDictionaries.com, disruption is defined as:
“Disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.”
Uber, the taxi booking tech startup, has faced a real backlash over the last few weeks. Since December’s $40 billion valuation the company has faced a barrage of hostility due to its aggressive rollout strategy and “Wild West tactics“. Uber is facing legal scrutiny across the globe – where government regulation is leading to bans in some countries and cities – not to mention questions of passenger safety, privacy and various ethical issues.
The surge pricing model, which adjusts prices based on supply and demand, got Uber into hot water when prices increased in response to people trying to flee the Sydney hostage siege. But it is this controversial model that is one element of Uber’s ‘disruptive’ competitive edge, and something the company is trying to patent.
Tech industry folks (the very early adopters who helped catapult Uber into everyday life) are now deleting the app in a boycott that started after allegations of sexism, misogyny and dubious privacy practices. This prompted a trend of tech bloggers posting about deleting the app, causing The Guardian to ask if Uber is “the worst company in Silicon Valley”.
Boycotting Uber is nothing new – Paul Carr wrote “Silicon Valley’s Cult of Disruption” 2 years ago – but it seems to have taken off in the past month as former advocates flee and the press jumps on every negative story. John Naughton wrote an interesting opinion piece recently suggesting that Uber is actually a poor example of innovation; rather its disintermediation using networking technology to be the middle-man, nothing groundbreaking.
Groundbreaking or not one of Uber’s biggest issues is that, in disrupting an established industry, it has failed to demonstrate an acceptable level of social responsibility. Disruptive innovation means the world is being shaken up. Great! But it also means that the world is being shaken up. While change driven by technology is often magical and exciting it is also painful. This has been true forever.
— Ronald van Loon (@Ronald_vanLoon) January 27, 2017
We should embrace the magic but remember the true meaning of disruption. Perhaps more companies should be prepared and open, and maybe a little more responsible.