The Disruption in Non-Disruption

Warren Church

Seeing innovation only from a disruption viewpoint can blind firms to the opportunity for new products, services or business models that are designed to be highly non-disruptive to the way our evolved brain – our human OS (hOS) – works.

Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for revealing that the human brain has two ways of processing information gathered by our senses. He describes the first (SYSTEM 1) as fast, intuitive, and emotional, and can’t be switched off. System 1 has the ability to process upwards of 11-million bits of information per second.

The second (SYSTEM 2) is slow, deliberate, and effortful. Its operation requires attention, and hence energy, so it only takes over from System 1 when it has to.

Think of System 1 as our “autopilot,” System 2 as our “pilot”, and the combination as the hOS. We need the whole hOS in order to function, but most of the time it runs on autopilot.*

While we like to believe in an imaginary brain that makes decisions in a thoughtful, deliberate manner, research evidence proves our hOS will avoid thinking whenever possible. So the decision of which product/brand/service to choose typically falls to the autopilot, and it prefers the “no brainer.”  

Non-disruptive opportunities can be found by deconstructing an existing product or service for significant hOS incompatibilities to exploit. UBER is a good example. The traditional taxi model has at least three things that disrupt the hOS – uncertainty, math, and the pain of paying. UBER eliminates all three of these with one simple app – creating a path of least resistance to a ride-hiring business that’s valued at over $62 billion.

Knowing how the hOS processes and makes decisions can help firms identify and exploit a new competitive lever – or even transform an entire industry. Maybe it’s time to think beyond disruption.

*Kahneman (and many others) estimate that System 1 is handling about 95% of the brain’s processing, leaving just 5% for System 2. For a very brief review of his work, click here.