What does Donald Trump, possibly our next president, have in common with the likes of Steve Jobs, or Joyce Hall, or Lowell Paxson?
The iconic Mr. Jobs is well known for turning Apple into the world’s largest company and a historic game-changer that has done nothing less than profoundly influence human behavior.
But what about those other fellows?
In the early 20th Century, Mr. Hall sold penny postcards on which people could write missives to relatives and friends. His idea went over like a lead balloon, so he came up with a new concept: Pre-print different messages on the cards so buyers wouldn’t have to think of what to say. He called the company Hallmark.
Lowell Paxson, known as “Bud,” owned a Florida radio station that struggled to sell advertising. He came up with the novel notion of buying surplus goods to peddle on his airwaves in place of commercials. Bud Paxson’s little radio station that could picked up enough steam to become the powerful sales engine known as Home Shopping Network.
What does any of the above have to do with Mr. Trump? For that answer, let’s drop another name that’s likely unfamiliar to you: Clayton Christensen. He is a Harvard Business School professor whose 1997 work, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” has been called one of the most important business books ever published.
In the book, he introduced the concept of “disruptive innovation.” As described on his website, that term “describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.” (italics mine)
Think Mr. Jobs’s iPod, which helped upend the record industry by packing thousands of songs onto a pocket-size device, as depicted in the biopic “Steve Jobs.”
Think Amazon founder Jeff Bezos creating a virtual retailer, where people can shop for almost anything through their phone or tablet or computer. He has displaced countless bricks-and-mortar retailers, starting with bookstores, which is the original product that established Amazon. It also has surpassed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the world based on Amazon’s market capitalization of almost $300 billion.
All of those examples illustrate Professor Christensen’s theory: They disrupted the status quo in their chosen marketplace.
No matter one’s opinion of candidate Trump, there is no doubt whatsoever that he has managed to join their rarefied ranks by totally disrupting the way American presidential campaigns are waged. Beyond that accomplishment, he also has disrupted one of the country’s two major political parties in a way that some observers believe may have very long-lasting effects on the Republican establishment’s Grand Old Party.
In his recently published book, “Disrupt You!,” Jay Samit broadens the scope of disruptive innovation to make the case that individuals can accomplish their goals through self-disruption.
Author Samit writes that “rather than observing a problem and sitting back and waiting for others to solve it, [disruptors] jumped in headfirst, seeing massive problems as massive opportunities.”
Again, that description evokes how Donald Trump cannily recognizes that the anxieties shared by a goodly number of Americans present him opportunities to enfranchise them as supporters. He has amassed a large and loyal following of agitated citizens who want to believe he—and he alone—has answers to the problems they believe are holding back themselves and the country at large.
Come to think of it, the sitting president, Barack Obama, has proved to be a formidable disruptor himself by totally transforming America’s health care system.
To the honorific commander in chief, maybe we should be adding a new title for POTUS: disruptor in chief.
Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce the Blog, is co-founding president of volunteer group Yorktown Organizations United. He is chief content officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a certified Google Partner agency. Follow Bruce the Blog or Hudson Valley WXYZ on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.