Why being disruptive is a good thing

A couple of generations ago, the American ideal was getting an education and then finding a job that would last you until retirement. One of the mega institutions that offered such an opportunity was IBM. Postgraduate engineers would dream of becoming “IBM men”, because such a job would offer significant challenges, good salaries and employment until the age of 65, unless you blew up a couple of labs. Not just engineers could seek employment at IBM or other major companies. The point was that people were seeking stable and reliable environments in which they could progressively advance. In the post WWII years, job security was considered one of the highest priorities in life. So, while a job in IBM might have been less glamorous for some people, they preferred it to other options.

Today, within the tech world, the idea of staying at one company for more than a few years seems suffocating to many people. There are many young people who have an expectation of working for a “first” company to get to know the system, and then to hop around amongst startups or other tech companies until they find an opportunity to be hugely successful. One of the problems with this new mindset is that there are far too many young people who consider themselves failing, if they have not had their first multi-million dollar exit by the time they are 30.

This nomadic way of thinking reflects a very fundamental change in society. Whereas previous generations sought to be financially stable and responsible (and understood that this takes time), there are many young people who believe that a great financial fortune is just around the corner.

It is not simple avarice that drives these new-age individuals. If they are successful in making very significant funds, they can then channel these funds into projects of their own choosing. With the money that would come from a multimillion/billion dollar exit, such young entrepreneurs could then invest in concepts that others might not appreciate. Or, they could choose to do what I would do, which would be to get a team of engineers together and build a real life Iron Man suit (damn the expense – we are talking MAJOR ComicCon cred).

The world of technology today is much more suited to people with shorter attention spans. Many more people are looking for steppingstones to an endpoint which is unclear, but they believe will be hugely profitable. This way of life is far more volatile and therefore far less secure. But, with a “no risk, no glory” attitude, young entrepreneurs, developers and engineers are changing our world on a near daily basis. There are many people who find this whole new attitude very disruptive. What is actually quite fascinating is that the term “disruptive” has become an extremely positive descriptor, versus being problematic.

It amazes me how concepts of appropriate behavior change so dramatically over a couple of decades. In IBM of old, the last thing that the establishment wanted was an individual who was highly disruptive of the chain of command and workflow. No matter how brilliant the idea may have been, old establishments were terrified of chaos, which would ultimately lead to failure on a grand scale. A company like Apple sought very hard to break away from the old school, and to find ways to radically change perceptions. To be more correct, it wasn’t “Apple” but rather Steve Jobs who saw it as his life purpose to shake things up. And as history records, Jobs was straight on.

In today’s reality, being disruptive is fundamental to success. If a company matches the technology of an existing group, but attempts to compete on price or add-on services, it will be extremely challenging to succeed. As it is, technology becomes cheaper and cheaper from year-to-year. If you add business competition to this downward price trend, companies will fail because they simply cannot achieve a profit margin.

Contrarily, if a company develops a truly disruptive technology, then the world will beat a path to its door. The number of problems in the world, whether medical or technological or any other field, seems to be growing constantly. Solutions of old are too slow or too limited in range to answer many of today’s needs. If someone comes up with a technology that fails to meet the needs of millions or more people on a day-to-day basis, it would seem that this technology is doomed to failure before it even starts. New ways of thinking and implementing solutions are now critical to the success of a venture.

It is also amazing how history, geography, politics and society (and G-d, if you believe) have created a disruptive mindset in Israel. Improvisation and innovation seemed to go hand-in-hand in Israel, and have morphed into being from a set of tools used to survive anti-Semitism and physical threats throughout the centuries. Israelis, as described in the book Startup Nation, are a “stiff necked people” that have become uniquely qualified to comfortably succeed, while balancing on an unsteady floor. Just as a personal anecdote, I recently spoke with a senior representative of a machine learning company, who told me that her work in New York involved an almost exclusively Israeli team. So, whether in Israel or abroad, Israelis continue to have a very strong overrepresentation wherever disruption is necessary.

As time goes on and more tasks are automated and computerized and handled by robots, humans will continue to excel in those areas where their unique mind skills still overshadow computers. Thinking outside the box, and having the guts to be disruptive will still be of great value for decades to come.

People who feel that they are not strong in these areas should not feel lost. It is possible to exercise one’s mind, just as one would exercise their arms in the gym, and thereby develop new capabilities. The key though is to realize that such abilities are necessary if one wants to continue to be successful in the years to come.

I imagine that if all else fails, anyone who wants to be successful could just simply move to Israel and “soak in” the vibe. Now, that would be cool.

Thanks for listening

My website is at http://mtc.expert

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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