We need to stop using the word disruptive (really)

Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash. Now that’s disruptive.

Tell me you haven’t read this one before.

Disruptive innovation. Disruptive marketing. Industry disruption. Young disrupters.

And on, and on.

I’m starting to see this world used everywhere, but really, for the past couple of years, the tech industry has been the number one offender.

Honestly, people in the industry need to grow up. Or maybe grow a back bone and stop using stupid, empty buzzwords that sound bigger than they are.

Think about what this word really means. The kind of images it should conjure.

Disruptive is your uncle over the holidays after he had one too many and someone says the word “socialism.”  Disruptive is a pig running loose in a china shop chased by two bumbling bobbies. Or the music your teenager’s band makes in the garage.

When it was first used by tech companies, in the late 90s and early aughts, it was a fairly reserved used, used only for new technology that verifiably, and justifiably, disrupted an industry.

You know, as in turned up the tables and changed the way things were done. They probably caused a mess, but after it happened there was no way of going back.

We can probably use this term, without sad sarcasm, to describe what cell phones did to communication, Uber did to transport and AirBnb did to renting property.

Note that while these innovations have been truly been game changing, they haven’t been without disruptive consequences.

Cell phones are driving us into increasingly isolated little shells, where we spend most of our time glued to small screens waiting for the next adrenaline rush of seeing that little 1 in a bubble pop up.

Uber has made hailing a cab from the middle of nowhere literally the easiest thing ever, while also producing a whole class of poorly paid people (without benefits) to drive the rest of us around.

And AirBnb? Well, say hello to skyrocketing rent and turbo-charge gentrification of literally every city or nice town out there.

Those were truly disruptive changes not just to industries but to the way people go about their days and live.

Since then, disruptive has come to mean anything from “new”, “innovative”, “cool”, “engaging” or whatever adjective that’s currently the flavour of the week.

In their continual reliance on this word, it only shows how tech companies are slow to innovate when it comes to branding, copywriting, and even understanding the sense of worth (or lack thereof) in the products they are delivering.

One also suspects that if a company is slow to innovate there, just another sad startup following the pack, that whatever product they are pushing is likely also… sad.

I suppose the saddest part is that my rant isn’t new. I’ve begun noticing similar aggravation from news outlets for a couple of years.

Forbes made a declaration against the word in 2017.

The Guardian, in 2016.

Hell, as early as 2014, was calling out the bullshit on this term.

That’s five years ago for fuck’s sake.

And there’s been no end. Even this week, I’ve seen fellow marketers use the word “disruptive” to describe their services (and some even have the audacity to name their agencies that way).

If all you’re offering is more of the same, but a simpler, easier, less stressful way of doing something people are already doing, are you sure disruptive is the right word?

Do you perhaps means “cozy” instead?

The bottom line: sing words that sound edgy, doesn’t make a product edgy, nor the person peddling it. It makes them sound like a charlatan, a poser, a wannabe, maybe even a has-been who can’t afford to think creatively anymore.

Using words like “disruptive” in 2019 certainly doesn’t make a company or person seem like a leader, or someone who I’d be willing to trust or listen to beyond their initial pitch.

At this point, I think it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing phone providers calling their services “evil”, brunch spots with “scandalous” menus, and email automation software that’s being billed as the “fucking antichrist” of software.

The only thing truly disruptive about the word would be if we stopped using it altogether.

By alexander

Drinker of bad wine and writer of many things. Alexander writes fiction, manages a team of SEOs, and dabbles in food history. He also has a Doctorate in North American Religion and Culture and used to teach at Concordia University.