February 2019

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Disruption, Why It’s Important

Disruption is fundamentally about change; specifically, it’s about a change to the status quo that we all find comforting.

Anto Budiardjo
Anto Budiardjo
New Deal for Buildings

Contributing Editor

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Disruption is fundamentally about change; specifically, it’s about a change to the status quo that we all find comforting. But disruption is a very specific type of change. It’s a type of change that creates a disturbance to the status quo beyond the ebbs and flows of day-to-day variances, and it’s also a type of change that can affect people’s work and businesses in very major ways, both in positive and negative ways.

There are three kinds of people when it comes to change: those who resist it, those who accept it, and those who make it happen. In this brief article, I’ll share my views on how these different types of people should look at disruption.

Creating Disruption

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved disruption, though I really didn’t think of it as disruption, it was just how I think and did things. To me, finding a problem is ecstasy, for without seeing and understanding problems, very little gets done in our world. Over the years, some have thought of me as a complainer since I often say “the problem with X is….”. In reality, it’s my way of finding things to do to make the world a better place.

Creating Disruption

I would say that many, if not all, of the great creators and innovators in the world, are people who think like this. From Einstein’s ride on the tram that propelled him to understanding space-time, to Steve Jobs’ reframing the personal computer as a problem of usability rather than features. Many of us also think this way in everyday lives and work; putting something in a suggestion box at work, volunteering at a church or community group to help with a needy project, and learning a new skill to improve our career. All of these actions come out of an observation of something that’s not right or could be better and then taking action to make those things better.

Without this core feature of the human story, we would still be neanderthals or hunter-gatherers in Africa. People who create disruption are often hailed as visionaries way after their hard work. But during the hard work, many will resent them as they challenge the status quo that serves many adequately. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say!

Accepting Disruption

Fortunately, most of us are in this category; we understand that innovation and disruption is a normal part of how the world works. Most of us remain mostly with the status quo but are fairly quick to change to something new as soon as we see and understand the benefits.

Also, those who are typically assigned well-defined tasks would easily fall in this category, be they well defined, process-centric project work, or discrete tasks such as office work, or making your numbers in sales. Those of us lucky enough to be in this category are typically less impacted by changes, in those areas anyway.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Resisting Disruption

Those of us who resist disruption, usually have a reason for their resistance. Focusing on the business context of this article, I think there are three major reasons.

First is knowledge and understanding the disruption. Since many disruptive changes occur from a non-obvious set of problems, technology, and approaches to solve them, many people just simply do not understand why the disruption is occurring. Quite often the disruptors themselves don’t know the exact steps of their disruption, so they aren't always able to explain things well enough. Those resisting also fail to see how the change will benefit anyone, let alone themselves.

The second reason for resisting is simply contentment of the status quo. Change is expensive in financial terms, but also in terms of having to think about things differently and changing our habits. Why bother if the status quo is working just fine thank you. People in this category aren’t as much resisting disruption, they are just content and adopt any innovation only when many other people have done so.

The third and last reason, which is most relevant in the business context, is financial. If the way you make decisions is based on maintaining your existing business model, then disruptions can impact you in a significant financial way. The disruption from clean, renewable energy is an example; businesses that have spent billions on coal-powered power plants cannot simply just switch off their coal generators; they are financed over decades! The same goes for a company that has invested in, and rely upon an existing channel to maintain their levels of business; they can’t just walk away from that channel, their business will tank! This is often referred to as stranded assets, ask any NYC taxi medallion owner about the value of their assets, I’m sure you’ll get some of that New York frankness! Understanding the future business environment is key to many businesses, a sudden and unpredictable disturbance is never a good
thing in business.

Words of Advice

The BAS industry is in the throes of many changes. The “software will eat the world” thesis from Silicon Valley has shown that one well-entrenched industry after another has fallen, driven by the digital disruption. To expect that BAS will not change, or be significantly impacted by disruption is an exercise of putting your head in the sand. So, my first advice is to be more open to change in the coming months and years. It will happen.

Words of Advice

The second important advice is to be agile and nimble, and not to allow yourself to fall into the financial hole that forces you to resist disruption. Try and avoid longer-term commitments that will prevent you to adopt something that is clearly better. I am sure that many who manage coal-powered plants would prefer to use clean energy instead, but their financial position prevents them from doing that.

My last advice is to keep your eyes and ears open for impending disruption in BAS.

I for one will continue my quest to seek out problems to solve. I have a few of these in the hopper right now; I hope that they will be received by the industry as what they are intended to be; new ways to make buildings and facilities better for those who build, engineer, own, manage, and occupy them.


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