If it ain’t broke

Jacqueline Hill | Graphic designer & Design educator
shiftazine.com / designasaw.com

Disruptive thinking is a term that is a part of what I call the ‘lingo du jour’. It was developed and introduced into the contemporary lexicon by Clayton M. Christensen and his team in 1995. It represents cutting edge thinking. It is the holy grail of the R and D (research and development) and design departments of many an international corporation and institution.

What does this ‘word of the moment’ really mean? The definition of the word ‘disruption’ speaks of being upsetting, unsettling, confusing; creating turmoil or disarray. It generates an obstruction; it is an impedance, a spoiler; it can ruin, it can delay or retard. It can interrupt.
It can interfere.

When the verb ‘thinking’ is combined with the word ‘disruption’, a paradigm for contemporary, entrepreneurial behaviour, which aims to crumble the walls of outmoded thinking and perception, is introduced.   

Disruptive thinking speaks of a separation of paths – a divergence of responses and protocol. A shaking up of a situation: it can be applied to inventive solutions and innovation in general.  Of taking the status quo and shifting a particular pattern of behaviour beyond recognition, to the point of reinventing the paradigm.

Systems that seem to work well, or do not generate any obvious problems tend to be left alone, to continue as they always have been. However, the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is considered a dangerous saying in some circles, as this type of thinking can lull us into a state of sleepy unawareness. While there are no apparent issues or problems in the status quo, there may be some fantastic possibilities or potentials that have
been left unexplored and it is at that precise point when ‘disruptive thinking’ comes into play.

People often cite Airbnb as a great example of ‘disruptive thinking’. The notion of taking that empty spare room and making it a place for a traveler to stay, which would generate some additional income, and provide an opportunity for interesting social/cultural interaction for anyone in any suburb, anywhere, has revolutionized the hotel industry worldwide. Wow.

Ten years later, and this piece of disruptive thinking has evolved into the generation of a rental crisis in inner-city areas of major, and not so major, cities throughout the world. Many homeowners now rent their properties out exclusively to Airbnb customers, making a much higher rate of financial return than if they rented their properties to locals, as somewhere for them to live.

The consequence of this innocent idea of utilising a wasted opportunity has turned into a social nightmare for many.

Sometimes an established situation or paradigm is long established because it works. Sometimes the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is correct.
Sometimes the notion of ‘disruptive thinking’ is just a bad case of ego.

Not every new idea is better than an old idea.

Not every tree needs to be shaken. Not every wall needs to be removed.


This is an excerpt from Ligature Journal Issue Four.
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