Today’s disruption is tomorrow’s convention.
This morning’s disruption is this afternoon’s conventional wisdom. The phrase has become a mantra of mine and not only illustrates how taboo ideas gain mainstream currency, but also explains how many so-called “disruptive” ideas are simply different iterations of a preexisting service or company.
Take Amazon, for example. It’s a company that I greatly respect and admire, but many people wrongly see it as a “disruptor.” Travel back nearly 125 years and you might notice a giant retailer that nearly every American knows and loves—one that is strikingly similar to Amazon if it had existed in a precomputer age—Sears and Roebuck.
EVERY SACRED COW IS EVENTUALLY REPLACED BY ANOTHER.
An October 2018 editorial in the New York Times notes, “Sears became the Amazon of its day because its co-founder Richard Warren Sears harnessed two great networks to serve his enterprise—the railroads and the United States Postal Service.” Before any other company, Richard W. Sears had the foresight to use powerful existing resources and developing technologies to improve the lives of his customers while exponentially increasing sales. His dependable mail-order company reached millions of untapped consumers in rural America and became an unforeseen competitor with traditional department stores before catalogs were widely used. In short, Sears helped to create the huge consumer economy our nation is known for today. Sears and Roebuck was a revolution, not a disruption, and it forced other American retailers to rethink traditional modes of selling. Isn’t that exactly what Amazon has done?
If Amazon is today’s sacred cow, it exists only as a 2018 version of the sacred cow that was originally born in 1893, when Sears and Roebuck was created. Amazon is now the standard of how retailers should and must operate. If you look closely enough, you will find that similar stories exist behind other companies and technologies that are widely seen as “disruptive” today. In my line of work, this reality operates as a framework through which I understand the rapid changes to our industry and the world in general. The most current, best idea or method will eventually replace one that is no longer effective or up-to-date. Every sacred cow is eventually replaced by another.
THERE IS ONLY ONE BOSS. THE CUSTOMER.
The most successful companies, products or services are always trying to innovate for their consumers, rather than for themselves. Oftentimes, revolutionary ideas start as implausible and taboo. But, if they ultimately benefit humanity and have the potential to transform the lives of their customers to any extent, big or small, they may ultimately be embraced by the mainstream.
Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton, once said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” It’s true for retail, it’s true for advertising and it is certainly true for the health and wellness industry. Companies, innovations, products and services that lose sight of their main priority, the human customer, will not succeed. And the only way an idea has the potential to shift from the fringes to the mainstream is when it places humans at its center.