Displacement versus Disruption

This post was inspired by my journey to Lisbon where I met Helga Stewart of Foundarte. Her story fascinated and inspired me. Transitioning from her corporate career Helga started Foundarte to promote Handmade products. Consumed with concerns for her beloved Portuguese lifestyle and the culture that had warmly embraced Helga and her family she noticed that artisans contributed greatly to social, economic, political and environmental factors. In addition, the lifestyle many traditional artisans took encouraged sustainable practices and showed awareness and care for our consumption habits and the planet we live on. Rather than disrupting, Helga used her skills, knowledge and experience to develop communities, collaborations and incentives for promoting young talent into the industry. This displaces the mass-produced, replica market and reintroduces the lost craft of true Portuguese artistry to the world, which in turn inspires the wider design and fashion trends throughout the industry.

It’s time to change the way we do business.

It’s time to become more efficient and sustainable, and to recognise the impact our businesses are having on the world around us.

It’s time to re-examine our processes and policies and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the global values that will make our businesses more productive and effective, so that while our businesses grow and prosper we can focus on creating a legacy that benefits everybody, not just ourselves.

We want your business to thrive and we want to help you achieve that goal. It’s what we’re passionate about. As such, we hope these blogs will clarify and demystify a lot of what’s required. We also hope they’ll encourage you to re-examine what your business is trying to do and why and how you’re trying to do it so you can innovate successfully towards a more sustainable future.

But, before we can do any of that, we need to reframe the language a lot of businesses are currently using - which brings us back to the title of this blog…

Displacement versus Disruption: What’s in a word?

On paper, ‘disruption’ and ‘displacement’ don’t seem that dissimilar. After all, they both involve initiating change. But, where business is concerned, we believe there’s a huge difference between the two terms.

For example, ‘disruption’ is the buzzword that most people are familiar with but how many of them have ever stopped to consider what ‘disruption’ really means, or the enormously negative consequences ‘disruption’ actually brings? When was the last time your work was disrupted and you felt good about it? Probably never. Or how about when you’re at the airport and something disrupts your flight? That’s not going to put a smile on your face. ‘Disruption’ is a word that’s loaded with so many unpleasant connotations it’s completely the wrong word to use to describe a positive indicator for change.

On the other hand, ‘displacement’ is a much more positive terminology, especially as we all innovate towards more sustainable practices. Why? Because, while ‘disruption’ suggests pulling everything apart to see what happens and then dealing with the potentially destructive consequences afterwards, ‘displacement’ is about adapting our people, resources, values and processes to achieve change in a more mindful and sustainable way.

Doesn’t that sound like a better idea to you?

Let’s take a practical example…

BP and Shell are both multinational oil and gas companies but they’re not actually in the oil and gas business – they’re in the energy business. As such, their role in wider society is to make sure we keep our lights on and that our cars keep moving down the road. How that’s achieved isn’t important. It could be by using oil, gas or coal or it could be via solar, tidal, wind, or maybe even an energy source that hasn’t been discovered yet. The fact is, if we ran out of oil tomorrow BP and Shell would simply reorientate themselves to meet the challenge. Why? Because they are energy companies at their very core.

But how would they do that?

Because BP and Shell have been innovating since the very beginning, squeezing as much as they can out of the oil they’ve pulled from the ground, out of the car, out of the boiler, out of every energy source they’ve ever encountered. The knowledge and talent they’ve gained from all that continuous learning and experience has given them transformative skills, and all they have to do is displace those skills to stay on top of any new emerging energy market.

Notice we said ‘displace’ not ‘disrupt’. If they disrupted their skills the results would be very different, and that wouldn’t be good.

Let’s take Tesla as another example. Tesla are the flagbearers for battery-powered sustainable vehicles but their board is primarily made up of top executives from ‘traditional’ automotive companies. Tesla hired the very best talent they could find to achieve their sustainable-energy objectives and now, because they’ve opened up that emerging market, their competitors (Mercedes, BMW, Audi etc.) have recognised the requirement to explore battery technology and been compelled to follow. Mercedes haven’t been economically or culturally disadvantaged by Tesla, they’ve reconfigured their approach to meet a growing market demand and accommodate an important new technology. That isn’t disruption, it’s displacement.

Displacement is sustainable. Disruption isn’t.

When a business can’t survive because of disruptive technologies or disruptive behaviours, everyone loses. The local economy suffers, people suffer, opportunities are lost and skills are wasted.

However, when a business is displaced it uses the talents its people already possess to give them new roles or re-educate them in the skills required to take the business in a fresh direction. Sometimes it might even mean redeploying those people entirely (after all, change will almost always require some degree of upheaval.) But, unlike disruption, displacement has genuine economic and social benefit. It adds value to a business, value that can be delivered to customers and shareholders as well as the community where the business is based. It’s also hugely attractive to investors because displaced businesses are inherently sustainable and ethical and, as such, are a far less risky proposition.

That’s why we’re challenging you to throw ‘disruption’ out of your vocabulary and become a Displacer.

Over the course of these blogs we’ll explain how to make that happen and, as you’ll discover in our next blog, it all starts with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The good news is, taking the first step towards achieving those goals isn’t as complicated as it might seem.

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