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Disruption is dangerous language

Deirdre Wilson – Tuesday, March 22, 2016   


Business jargon is a dangerous thing. People grab hold of new jargonistic terms as if they have found the only life raft in a sea boiling with sharks. Problem is, most jargon is an illusion. It is a smoke screen. The life raft is an illusion, only the sharks are real.

The latests jargon appears to be about "disruption". This really scares me. The idea of business people running around disrupting their organisations is terrifying. Those organisations are still recovering from having tiger teams buy in to setting stretch goals beyond their core competencies.

Disruption seems like a rash action. But it is all in the choice of language. Disruption makes me think of chaos. Disruption, rash, chaos - all words that fit together - for me. Change 'disruption' to 'design thinking' and my perception changes altogether. Here is a story to illustrate:

I read a story recently about a company making mattresses that "disrupted" the mattress industry by making and delivering mattresses in a way that hadn't been done successfully before - I add 'successfully' because it may have been tried and not succeeded. All ideas have a time, a right time, that allows them to flourish. That right time also has a bunch of the right people on the job as well. In the case of the mattress company, the right people has a lot to do with having a good CRM, understanding what can be done to harness customer input and a good public relations machine / social media strategy. The thing that the mattress company did that was 'disruptive' was to question the way things had been done so far.

Asking 'why' and being confident that there will always be an answer is the core of creative thinking. Designers learn this is design school. Designers learn to ask 'why' in all sorts of ways. The core of design thinking or creative thinking is to question every assumption and answer you find. The mattress company did just this. They questioned everything about making and selling mattresses and then began making mattresses a different way, delivering them a different way, dealing with customer complaints a different way, selling their product a different way and even taking a different approach to having a product range.

This doesn't mean that the mattress company threw out all of the conventional thinking. For example: they still make mattresses in conventional sizes. The existing approach to anything will have parts that could and probably should be updated but there will also be some aspects of the existing approach that are sound and worth hanging on to. But you lose everything when you do a wholesale chuck out.

I read Marie Kondo's book on tidying - I am sure my mother would be thrilled to know that but want to see evidence of change with her own eyes! In her book, Marie says you should ask of everything you possess if it gives you joy . Sitting in a pile of socks and asking each pair if it gives me joy seemed a little crazy but I tried it and found it quite easy to decide what joy means in the context of old socks and soon had a pile of keepers and those that needed to be chucked out.

They key here is that I asked the question to determine the outcome. I didn't just empty my whole sock drawer into the bin. I had a criteria for making my decision. I was essentially asking 'why': the question why should I keep these socks needed to be answered with because they give me joy.

So it is with thinking about design or disruption. Asking questions and even better, asking the right sort of questions leads to a discovery path. Wholesale chuck out is like panning for gold then emptying the results back into the river. If you ask why is this done in this way and keep asking (because you need to ask why 5 times) you will find out what the basis is on which that outcome sits. Then, and only then, you can decide if that is current, relevant, sound, profitable thinking.

Disruption scares me but if I think about it as being akin to design thinking then I feel more like I am on solid ground because I am a designer and I am used to asking why and I am used to turning over rocks to see what lies beneath. And I think there is a possible outcome to every problem. But I am not keen on disruption for the sake of it.

Further Reading

Same, same but different, Store (or tag) your passwords methodically and save on headaches... 
- Why design thinking is like an air guitar

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design – Australia's most sensible information design company.
Deirdre applies her background in industrial design and design management to the complex and wondrous projects undertaken by Hothouse Design.

Refer to this prev post at the end of this post: http://www.hothousedesign.com.au/blog/why-design-thinking-is-like-an-air-guitar

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