A good break

Technology reminds us that sometimes rules are made to be broken.

The recent appearance of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before the European Parliament reminds us of the company’s founding motto: “Move fast and break things”. It has since become something of a mantra for tech entrepreneurs who believe disruption is key to innovation.

Normally, innovation within an industry is incremental; and that industry evolves accordingly. Disruption, on the other hand, unsettles that industry by replacing a defining characteristic with something completely new and more efficient. So, it is both creative and destructive. In a way, disruption is evolution through revolution.

The ride-hailing apps Uber, Lyft and Didi are classic cases in point. They have turned the traditional taxi industry on its head.

But why are tech-based companies so often the drivers of disruption? Because they are able to break rules. That may sound counter-intuitive, but, remember, not all rules are the same.

As all foxes should know, there are written and unwritten rules in any game. Written rules are laws and regulations – the difference between civilisation and anarchy.

Unwritten rules are usually cultural characteristics, or they are determined by the limits of current technology. Therefore they can change.

If written rules determine what we may not do, unwritten rules include what we cannot do. A simple example: school rules say you’re not allowed to take someone else’s lunch box; but that doesn’t mean you’re physically unable to do it. So, you may not, but you can. Conversely, no-one’s saying we’re not allowed to live under water; it’s the technology that says we can’t. Yet.

And this is the reason why many disruptions come in a digital format: they break the ‘you-can’t-do-it’ unwritten rules.

Here are some examples: you can’t read the news unless you buy a newspaper; you can’t enjoy your photographs unless someone develops them; you can’t buy something unless you go to a shop; you can’t do any banking unless you go to a bank; you can’t test your blood pressure unless you visit a healthcare practitioner; and, more recently, you can’t travel in a car unless someone is driving it.

In the game of disruption, you can’t do something…until you can.

[This article originally appeared in the publication Fox Bytes (you can view it here) in the week of 28 May 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]

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