The term “disruptor” is one that is often thrown around in the tech industry. Chasing the “new thing” is the driving force behind Silicon Valley and tech companies all over the world. However, it takes real genius to be truly disruptive and below are 4 individuals I think perfectly encapsulate the persona of “disruptor”.
Shawn Fanning (and also Sean Parker) demonstrate that being disruptive is often controversial. In 1999, Sean Fanning released the first beta program of Napster, which allowed peer to peer file sharing of predominantly music files. This caused, and this is putting it lightly, a ruckus.
Operating only between June 1999 and July 2001, Napster had a whopping 80 million users at its peak. Ultimately Napster hit a tonne of copywrite lawsuits that eventually forced them to shut down, but Daniel Ek has publicly stated that his love of Napster is what led him to create Spotify.
The idea of a platform where users can access any song they like, without having to buy the specific albums and singles was a powerful one and truly disruptive.
What’s more disruptive than being the first of something, and what’s more tech than being “the first programmer”?
Ada Lovelace was born in 1815, the daughter of Lord Byron, and became enamoured with mathematics at a young age. Her studies led her to become acquaintances with Charles Babbage, known as the “father of computers”. Babbage came up with a variety of the first mechanical computers and his “Analytical Engine”, which used punched cards as input, was a particular interest of Lovelace’s.
In 1842, Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea transcribed one of Babbage’s descriptions of the Analytical Engine, and Ada Lovelace translated Menabrea’s article into English. What she also did was add an extensive series of notes on the machine, including a way it could be used to calculate Bernoulli numbers, which is known as the first ever computer program.
Writing a computer program before the invention of the lightbulb is truly disruptive and downright genius.
“Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, "We've always done it this way." I try to fight that. That's why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.”
How cool is that quote. It sums up disruption at its core, and is one of the many pearls of wisdom from Grace Hopper, or to use her proper title Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.
When Hopper came up with the idea of a programming language that used entirely English words she was told she couldn’t because ‘computers don’t understand English”. She persisted and came up with the first ever “compiler” and her work inspired the programming language COBOL, which is a computer language for data processors that is still widely used today.
Ever played Super Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda or Nintendogs? Then you are familiar with Shigeru Miyamoto’s work.
Miyamoto shifted the game industry’s priority from high scores to compelling gameplay and is widely credited with rescuing the game industry from the 1983 video game crash with his game Super Mario. As the games industry became saturated with games, and consumers lost interest, the games industry went into a recession and multiple companies went bankrupt. Miyamoto’s focus on making games fun to play (which sounds obvious but actually worked) and focusing not on popularity but what will make a user love a game created enduring franchises that to this day are some of the most purchased games of all time.
Shifting the focus of an entire industry, saving it from bankruptcy and creating enduring franchises people all over the world love, incredibly disruptive.
These are just some of the geniuses who have changed the way we interact with and utilise technology, and their unique way of looking at things, combined with their determination and hard work, embodies the spirit of disruption that is so often sought after in today’s fast paced world.