Cultural Disruption

I've had a lot of discussions lately about disruption in business. Usually they focus around a technology as the disruptive force or an entirely new business model (e.g. Uber, AirBnB) that turns an industry on its head.

And then two things happened that made me come to a very simple conclusion.

(1) Elon Musk, the rockstar founder of Tesla, dropped this on the world:

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.
Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology

He removed the patents from the wall. A seemingly small detail, but huge in what it communicates.

(2) Starbucks announced they will help underwrite college classes for its employees: 

"Supporting our partners' ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make," [Howard] Schultz [CEO] said in a statement.

The benefit is valued at about $30K per employee, and Starbucks won't require employees to stay at the company after they've earned their degree.

As I said above, the conclusion I came to is absurdly simple: While disruption can come in the form of technology or an entirely new business model, it's equally as powerful when it comes in the form of culture.

Imagine a car dealership that financially incentivizes its salesforce based on customer satisfaction with the buying process. Or an airline that conducts exit polls after flights and uses the results to bonus its staff.

Buying a car and flying - two notoriously horrible experiences. Made worse by the prevailing norms. If done right, there must be a business advantage to some company bucking those cultural norms.