Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

February 2014

Disruptive used to be bad. You know, like you get a call from a teacher saying your kid is disruptive. Or every time the temperature changes, you get a tire pressure warning — that’s disruptive. Disruptive, like a cell phone in a theater; it’s disruptive, it’s bad.

However, disruptive can be an excellent thing in business, science, education. It creates new markets, new medicine, and new curricula.

Apple’s iPad disrupted the PC market as did its smart phone. Amazon disrupted the retail industry, FedEx disrupted parcel post, and email disrupted the heck out of the post office.

What are going to be the new disruptions? The bets seem to be on social media, legalized marijuana, three-dimensional printing, more and more robotics, alternative energy sources, U.S. energy independence, and big data, to name a few.

AOL was a disrupter that got disrupted. AOL blazed the online trail, signing up the world, or at least the USA, with modem connections to its array of online interest group forums. It hired waves of bright young people tasked with helping “newbies” get their Radio Shack TRS-80s connected to the wonderful world of not-quite-the-Internet.

Isn’t it true that 90 percent of the time you spend talking with someone in India to get your printer running is spent on the first use? After the sheets start feeding, you don’t call again until the darn thing breaks or you get a new printer. At AOL the demand for help was driven by the success of the subscription expansion, which meant more and more smart young folks had to be recruited and trained to keep up with their new disruptive market. When the churn line went flat (lapsed subscribers equaled new subscribers) marginal income froze and then turned.

Free email accounts, the net, and search engines disrupted AOL. Google, of course, is the champion enabler of disruption, settling bar bets and empowering everyone to challenge authority. GTS (Google that stuff).