The Five Stages of Disruption Denial

Five Stages ofHere is an excerpt from an article written by Grant McCracken for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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I missed Twitter. I first heard about it when everyone did in 2006. And I started an account in a knee-jerk way. But I didn’t grasp it. In those days, I would just stare at the entry box and think, “What?”

Now of course, I pretend Twitter struck me as an irresistibly good idea the first time I heard it and that I was an early champion. I have forgotten and concealed the early days, the days in which I had no clue.

There’s a convenient forgetting going on out there. Our lives are now filled with a stream of disruption, things that are new and strange. Whatever our first reaction, we now like to pretend we were early adopters and enthusiasts. Call it “disruption denial.”

The fact of the matter is our professional lives now churn with change. Markets change. Technology changes. Consumers change. Channels change. Competitors change. This is an era of disruption. Not disruption as the occasional event, but disruption as the constant, chronic condition of our professional lives. You would hope that we were getting better at understanding and managing change. And sometimes we are. Too often however, our response is to ignore and forget change, to fake our way through it, to pretend an engagement and a mastery we do not have. And that’s bad. That means we are not getting better at change, but steadily worse. We are denying disruption, instead of adapting to it.

We seem to adopt and adapt to something like Twitter by stages, a little like Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. Except in this case, it’s a passage from confusion to congratulation. Self-congratulation.

[Here are the first two of five.]

Stage 1. Confusion. We don’t quite get it. We sign up for the new app. We give it a whirl. Not really getting it. By this time, gurus are reassuring us that Twitter is the greatest thing ever. But that doesn’t help. We’re still not getting it. And so we turn to Stage 2.

Stage 2: Repudiation. It turns out there are lots of people who don’t get the new technology and now social life is a little like a competition to show that we’re not “falling for it.” At this point, there can more social capital in saying that we don’t like the tech than that we do

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To read gthe complete article, please click here.

Grant McCracken is a research affiliate at MIT and the author of Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. His most recent book is Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas.

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