Disruption is just someone with a good idea

A while ago Rutger Bregman launched a ‘switch over week’ on his Dutch press website called The Correspondent. In this week he tried to mobilize his 60,000 readers to make the switch to an ethical bank. Several hundreds of people did, with great enthusiasm.

Some time ago Salman Khan decided to make simple YouTube videos in order to help his nieces better understand maths. The videos were a great success, to the extent that the Khan Academy now has more than 3,000 free lessons online. It has received 15 million in investments and donations. Meanwhile, it has significantly undermined the business model of many e-Learning platforms.

Another one: Popcorn Time. A couple of Argentine activist hackers developed this very popular illegal streaming service for videos and TV series – a sort of free Netflix. The site was taken offline in 2014, but the code was up for grabs. Today, Popcorn Time could have easily been at least as big as Netflix.

Whenever we talk about disruption, we are almost always talking about companies like Uber and Airbnb. But that is just one side of the story. Disruption is the word we use when someone has suddenly come up with a new way of doing things. A way that makes the old one obsolete. And generally it is individuals, hobbyists, hackers and makers who lead the way; no corporation is involved. Something that suddenly appears to be very disruptive often came about as a project or a joke that got out of hand.

In network theory this is called Reed’s Law: the usefulness of a network grows exponentially with its size. The examples here show it’s true: in a networked world, all you need is one individual with a good idea. The network then brings the benefits to everyone.

You can rest assured that no one can predict where disruption is going to take place. And that’s what makes this time of ours so insanely interesting.


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