Destruction has always been a reaction to the unfamiliar. Even back in 1707, when inventor Denis Papin set sail on board a paddle-wheel boat on the Fulda River from Kassel, Germany, toward London. The boat was driven by a steam engine he had developed himself—a revolution in shipping, which had been dependent on wind power until that time. But Papin’s journey abruptly ended after just twenty kilometers: the local boatman’s guild had the right to prevent the passage of any foreign vessels. The indignant boatmen in Münden pulled Papin’s hitherto unknown vessel out of the water—and destroyed it.
Papin’s innovative idea survived the attack, as there was simply no stopping the (eventual) development of steamers. It did take time before this new industry conquered the Seven Seas toward the end of the nineteenth century, supplanting sailing ships for the most part. Yet even at that time, there were looming parallels to a process that we know today as disruption. A good idea, no matter how insignificant it might initially seem, can overwhelm even nearly invincible adversaries.
It was not until the digital business era, however, that the term disruption first became a word imbued with magical powers. It describes the unexpected destruction of markets in their current form in order to make them more user-friendly and to restructure them more profitably. The Internet plays a special role in this, as it aggressively increases the speed and frequency of disruptive technologies, resulting in an almost perpetual state of disruption around the world. In the United States, the disruptors’ stealthy power can be summed up by a bitter expression now making the rounds: ultimately, the saying goes, nearly every company can be Amazoned or Ubered.