Is Social Collaboration a Disruptor?

By Christian Buckley posted 10-04-2012 21:25


According to Wikipedia, "disruptors are employed by several alien species in the Star Trek series, including Romulans, Klingons, Breen, Cardassians, Iridians and Orions in their personal and military small arms as well as being mounted as cannon, emitters, turrets, and banks. Only the first three are known to have type-3 disruptors, the most advanced developed so far, by the 24th century. Disruptors cause damage by exciting the molecular bonds of targets." (

Interesting, yes, but not really relevant here. does a better job of defining a disruptor -- or disruptive technology, as causing disorder or turmoil; destroying -- at least temporarily -- continuance or unity; or as breaking apart. Social collaboration technologies are often described as being disruptors in the enterprise, but do they really fit that definition?

One of my favorite cartoon strips is a series around Dilbert sharing his theory that the origin of the universe did not begin with a big bang, but in fact began with more of a "Phhbwt" sound (you can find the strip here), at which point he is mocked by Dogbert.

My contention is that social collaboration is a better fit for the "Little Phhbwt" than the big bang usually associated with disruptive technologies.

Here's my thinking:

  • Does it cause disorder and turmoil? Possibly within some organizations, but in general, no. The biggest argument here is that there can be disruption caused when end users drive the speed at which social technologies are deployed internally, causing potential intellectual property risks as well as IT management headaches as the new technologies are put in place and supported.
  • Does it permanently or temporarily destroy continuance or unity? I would say no, as the nature of these technologies are about connecting people, putting context and dialog around content, and building inclusive and transparent environments. If anything, they bring continuance and unity into the organization.
  • Does it break apart the organization? Nope. It's a lover, not a fighter. It's about surfacing data, building connections.
  • Is it new? Is it something never before seen? Not really. Product lifecycle management (PLM) platforms go back a couple decades or more, and the dawn of the worldwide web brought with it a broad range of synchronous and asynchronous technologies that make the Facebooks, Twitters, and SharePoints of the world possible. It's not like someone invented these tools overnight. These concepts and adaptations were introduced slowly, with plenty of media attention and fanboys at each step (hence the 'Little Phhbwt' reference).
  • As a category, no, but what about individual technologies within the category? Well, sure. I'll use Twitter as an example. They didn't create the underlying technology, but their application of the available technologies in a novel way, and the rapid rise as the platform of choice for SMS-like communications took the world by storm, inspiring an entire ecosystem of partners, copycats, and customers. I think it could be said that Twitter has been disruptive, but view it as just one small piece of the overall social collaboration category.

Now, whether or not you agree that social collaboration is a disruptive technology, I do believe it to be a disruptive force within some enterprises. Why, you ask? Because it has the ability to turn internal -- and external -- corporate communication on its head.  It is disruptive in its ability to apply metadata and context and conversation to our content and ideas in ways that were previously difficult, at best, or impossible for many organizations. And it has the ability to improve the information worker's productivity like no other advance since the creation of email.


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