Kicking and Screaming: Steve Jobs and Disruption

A big topic on this blog is disruptive innovation, and prior posts have discussed how disruption works in the theories of Clayton Christensen.

Steve Jobs is the Babe Ruth of disruption of our times, getting difficulty points for overturning insular industries like music and publishing and wireless service, industries which resist disruption with every last effort.  His efforts are educational, in showing how disruptive companies can win over the target industry’s customers, using them to pull through changes disruptive to industry incumbents.  This article in this weekend’s New York Times, gives some indication of how the process of disruption worked with Jobs, through a process of winning over his consumers — also the consumers of media — forcing the media industries to follow and participate in disrupting themselves.  Because his devices were so “sexy and irresistible,” attracting scores of consumers, there was no choice for the disrupted industries but to bend to his wishes on how industry assumptions had to change:

So what secret tunnel did he use to bypass and overcome traditional media businesses? One carved by consumers. By placing sexy, irresistible devices in the hands of the public, he reverse-engineered the business model of the industries that produce the content for Apple’s gorgeous hardware.

When the iPod and iTunes were unveiled in 2001, the music industry was under siege from piracy, with services like Napster thriving on the free use of its content. Mr. Jobs’s take-it-or-leave-it deal gave Apple control over pricing, data, distribution and platform, a proposal of towering hubris. But the industry, kicking and screaming all the way, eventually went along, and 10 billion song downloads later, digital revenue is a fundamental part of the business.

In the process, Apple brought a practical end to the album format — allowing people to buy individual songs and create their own playlists.

ITunes not only supplied a legitimate, easy-to-use alternative to piracy, it created a runway for services like Pandora and Spotify.

And the more the content became available to his devices, the more “sexy and irresistible” the devices became:

Along the way, he changed the vocabulary of media. Songs became files, subscriptions became apps — and media became just one more way to make that thing in your hands appear all the more magical.