Too Much "Disruption"

A blog about business and economics.
May 2 2013 10:35 AM

Too Much "Disruption"

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Panelists speak at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference at The Manhattan Center on May 1, 2013 in New York City.

Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch

I did a column about the overuse of "disruption" as a business and technology buzzword in which I try to underscore two points. One is that Clayton Christensen's original concept of disruptive innovation is in fact quite valuable and we should try to preserve it as an idea with a specific meaning. The other is that lots of perfectly great companies, ideas, and innovations aren't "disruptive" in this particular sense, and that's fine, as long as they don't try to market themselves as such. Entering a market with a new, much better product is a great thing to do in life—not everything needs to be disruptive!

The area where we really do seem to me to need disruption in the true sense is not in web services or smartphone apps, but in the aforementioned health care system. At its best, American health care is amazing. But American health care does not seem to serve the mass market very well. It's extremely expensive and the actual benefits in terms of health outcomes are generally pretty small, so when the government gives people subsidized coverage the benefits seem to be primarily financial in nature. This is a situation that's crying out for some disruption. For the entrance, in other words, of products and systems that aim to be more convenient and more cost-effective rather than "better" than the best in the world. This is where nurse-practitioners, retail health clinics, computer-assisted diagnostics, and all the rest seem to be promising. It's not that a nurse working in a Walgreens consulting a computer is going to become a better health care provider than the Mayo Clinic, it's that such a person may be able to better meet the practical needs of the typical person than a giant hospital full of expensive skilled labor and very costly capital equipment.

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But in the rest of life, feel free to not disrupt! "It's like this thing you already do but better because computers!" is a totally valid business concept.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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