I’ve read more than 100 business plans so far this year, and seen about 50 pitches. About half of them promised to disrupt their industry. No wonder somebody asked in Quora last week:

disrupt quora disruption

What does it mean to “disrupt” an industry? I hear this all the time about this or that that is ‘disrupting’ whatever industry its in. What does that mean?

Good question. That term is so overused. And I think real disruption is a great goal, rare, and a bonanza when it happens.

What’s disruption? It’s what highways and trucks did to railroads, what online streaming video is doing right now to DVD rentals and traditional network television, what typewriters did to pens, what word processing did to typewriters, and what mp3 files and iPods did to the music industry. It’s what email did to the post office. It’s what the web search did to public libraries. It’s what the Amazon Kindle did to book sales.

It’s a big deal when it happens. But it doesn’t happen very often. Sure, examples are easy enough, but trying to do it with your business or mine, today, is a tougher challenge.

Do you stop claiming your going to disrupt your industry, in your plans and pitches? Maybe. Hearing the word triggers skepticism as much as interest. Use it sparingly and only if you can really support it.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.