It's everyone's favourite buzzword. But who is really making waves, and how will it affect the next generation of businesses?
The Oxford English Dictionary word of the year was, a touch unimpressively, 'selfie'. But in 2013 the business world was fawning over another term entirely. Whatever your industry, whoever you were selling to and wherever you were, one thing was clear: you needed to be disruptive.
It's little surprise, however, that while every marketing and PR professional gleefully jumped on the bandwagon in proclaiming that absolutely everything their respective companies were producing was disruption defined, only a fraction of endeavours truly embodied the sentiment.
As the dust settles and the overuse of the word begins to calm, it's worth considering what disruption truly is: to be better without apology, and to be different in defiance of what has gone before. Much like innovation, it is a rare thing, but unlike innovation it displaces as much as creates. Vitally it is an invention that can scale and consolidate a position from that firebrand foundation - rarer still. That said, true disruption can still be found, and some notable trends along with it.
Drawing from UGC
User Generated Content was another term of the moment, and arguably any development that brings the potential for greatness to otherwise likely-overlooked ideas will disrupt not only in its initial creation, but in the ripples it can cause. Kickstarter calls for the world to generate business plans and products, or to help those that do.
A modernisation of bartering services in return for finance, it has turned the concept of funding on its head. It has in doing so also brought the idea of trending and popularity to securing finance - it has never been easier to see what the public wants as they vote with their bank accounts - over $950 million across 55,000 projects.
Comment has been passed that the five per cent share that Kickstarter takes is too small to secure VC investment, but it could be equally argued that trying to box the company back in to traditional investment routes misses the point entirely. A huge number of like-minded start-ups are taking the lead from this pioneering start, each with their own spin - it will be interesting to see which models are build for true scalability, and whether Kickstarter's own long-term game plan will subsequently evolve.
Amazon should be commended not just for innovating while holding market leadership, but for working hard to disrupt, too. They, along with Google and eBay, are beginning to leverage courier services and networks of local sellers to finally solve the one hurdle to securing countless impulse buys: same-day delivery that's also affordable. Amazon's hard-fought marketplace dominance, powerful infrastructure and cutting-edge warehousing distribution strategies - drones included - could well see them come out on top.
On the other end of the spectrum, IBM are delivering something entirely different at a speed thus far thought impossible. Big data has brought with it a bottlenecking of its flow: as data warehousing becomes ever more commonplace, moving it becomes far more pressing an issue. Silicon Integrated Nanophotonics use light pulses to transmit that data, and will without question change all forms of storage: servers, datacenters, supercomputers. The unstoppering that comes with this hyper highway can only bring further disruption along with it.
No more traditions
The wealth of disruptive accomplishment spreading across the world sends a message to every company and industry still wallowing in tradition: do better, think bigger and work differently or lose everything. No sector is safe. Upstart company Settled launches in the UK this year, intent on taking property selling back into the hands of its owners and bypassing traditional estate agent routes. Gumroad - a digital content selling platform that threatens even Paypal's position, has opened its doors to payments from Japan and has further plans for international expansion. blur Group will continue to challenge and encourage digital business services buying and selling worldwide.
It is nothing but good news. The constant clamour of disruption not only yields new possibility but ensures that those ahead of the game have good reason to continue innovating. It remains to be seen who will shine in 2014, but it's certain that they will have to work hard to get there.