Trump’s lessons in disruption

Suppose a Donald showed up in your industry. How would you respond?

So what do you think of Trump?

Those could be the most inflammatory words in our language, and just about everybody has an opinion.

Blowhard.  Brash. Excessively rude.  Breath of fresh air. Egomaniac.  The only one telling it like it really is. Bully.

I’ve never been a Trump fan, and I certainly don’t like the crudeness of some of his remarks, but, like it or not, I have to admit what he’s doing is working.  He’s at the top of the heap, by almost any measure.

I don’t think it’s the brashness or crudeness that put him there. I think he’s reached the top in spite of that.  There has to be something else.

He’s no dummy. No, he has a knack for figuring out what people really want and delivering it to them.

He’s taken the same approach to his campaign. Nobody was talking about the issues he’s raised. They’re quite divisive, and regardless of the side politicians pick, they’re going to lose a bloc of voters. So just about everybody was kind of sidestepping these issues.  

Trump has shown these issues are particularly important to an awful lot of voters, and as a result, he’s controlling the agenda for both parties.

A lot of other campaigns are scrambling to figure out how to respond. Notice how much of the criticism is about his style rather than his positions on the issues. Trump is a game-changer, and his critics are missing the game.

Steve Jobs, another game-changer not well known for tactfulness, developed this thing called an iPhone.  The competition called it a toy, not for serious businesspeople. An awful lot of people saw it as a tool that did many things their Blackberries couldn’t do.

A number of companies responded with similar products and got a piece of the market. RIM (Research in Motion – maker of Blackberries) was slow and sluggish and lost enormous marketshare as a result.

While he was at it, Steve Jobs came up with another device called the iPad. The laptop market is still there, but it’s not quite as ubiquitous as it used to be. Of course, the tablets are called “computers for dummies,” and they are.  They’re so easy to use they require almost no training, and that’s part of what makes them popular.  

iPhones and iPads are what Harvard professor and best-selling author Clay Christensen calls disruptive technologies. They turn existing industries upside down.

Henry Ford’s Model T put a lot of buggy whip makers out of business even though they were doing everything right. The demand for their product simply disappeared. Trying harder to make better whips just didn’t work.

I think Trump’s success comes from his willingness to abandon political correctness and speak frankly about the issues of greatest interest to his following.  That’s what’s helping him steal marketshare from everyone else.

So you’re not a politician and you don’t like Trump either; you’re trying to run a business and make a buck.  What can you learn from this?

Suppose a Donald showed up in your industry.  How would you respond?  You can waste valuable time and resources trying to discredit the new technology or approach or you can learn the new rules and try to beat Donald at his own game.  Do it a little better and less crudely and you might win.

Even better, become the Donald of your industry.  What new innovation would be a real game-changer for you and your customers?  It’s a lot better to be first than to try to catch somebody else.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a product; it could be a new service or a better way of doing something.  Why not lead the pack?

At this point, I have no idea for whom I will vote, but disruptive technologies force us to reconsider many things.  Although I never thought I’d buy a Mac, I wonder if my next computer should be a Windows 10 PC or a Macbook.

Remember, you don’t have to like somebody to learn from them. Politics is a lot like business.  Politicians try to get as many voters as they can while businesses try to get as many customers as they can.  

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or