Disruption

Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.

I’ve been thinking about disruption lately. As a movie buff and a long-time Netflix customer, I’ve gone on a roller coaster ride of near worship for Netflix in the early days to disappointment more recently. At the peak of the DVD years Netflix was THE company for movie lovers. Netflix was an industry disruptor, offering a much larger catalog than any physical store could maintain and doing it all by mail for a flat monthly fee. A vast collection of obscure movies were available and if Netflix didn’t have a particular film, customers could make suggestions. I watched several movies after suggesting them to Netflix (I would venture that others had suggested those films, also) that I might never have seen otherwise. These days, of course, the DVD selection is becoming increasingly limited and streaming is the thing. And the streaming is increasingly content that was developed by Netflix. So now the company is a different kind of disruptor, competing with film studios and movie theaters rather than retailers offering post-theatrical releases.

In doing this, Netflix is also disrupting creative expression. Writers, actors, directors, everyone involved in the process, are creating “seasons” of programs offered throughout the year and available for viewing all at once, very different from the weekly, calendar-driven episodic seasons historically offered by TV networks. Other TV productions have followed suit, from Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival to The X-Files “10th season” (and upcoming 11th season!) on Fox. In some ways, this seems creatively liberating, freeing storytellers from the confinement of a set number of episodes scripted for commercial breaks or a two-hour theatrical release. But for die-hard movie fans, it can take some getting used to, especially when some of the most common alternatives are superhero mega-franchises.

This is an example of disruption at an industry-wide level. Similar to what Warby Parker has tried to do with eyewear or 23andMe is trying to do with research and personal genetic testing. The 7 ideas blog published an intriguing list of different approaches to industry disruption, such as reducing complexity or identifying new target markets.

One of my goals with this blog is to consider how these broader concepts can be applied in our individual lives. On a personal level, it might involve changes like getting rid of a television to disrupt how we spend our time. Or setting a personal budget to control spending. My wife and I made a surprisingly positive disruption to our finances and our anxiety levels by shopping at a smaller, low-price grocery store instead of a big-box store.

Professionally, we can disrupt our lives by applying for a job we really want in some unorthodox way, like these people did. Or committing to a schedule that makes time for creative expression like writing or painting. Or combining your passions for fashion and gardening into a designer scarecrow business.

Statue of Benjamin Franklin operating a printing press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A disruptor from another time – young Ben Franklin operates a printing press in Philadelphia  (Sculptor: Joseph Brown)

For some reason, while I’m thinking about disruption, my mind keeps coming back to Jimmy Breslin, who passed away in March, 2017. Breslin was best known for two columns he wrote in November, 1963. A disruptive force in journalism who criticized reporters who “haven’t left the office,” Breslin generated his fair share of controversy but made his career by meeting people and telling stories that would not have been told otherwise.

What are some ways you can disrupt your own life or career? Is there something you can eliminate or add? A habit you can change? Meet a more diverse array of people or expose yourself to new ways of thinking?  If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut, experiment with different methods of disruption.  Even small-scale disruptions can have a dramatic long-term impact on your life and career.  And you never know when you might change an industry as a result.

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