Trump’s just a disruptor. We shouldn’t be so surprised

Disruption happens wherever there is dysfunction and inertia.  The person behind that disruption doesn’t need to have a shining PR record, or even a decent one

By Angela Bradbury on 11th November 2016

You have to hand it to him.  Donald Trump has won the US presidency with no prior political experience, very little support even from his own party and a fraction of the budget of Hillary Clinton.  If he were a startup founder, we’d be admiring his lean operating model and personal grit.  Because the truth is, Trump isn’t that different from any other disruptor.  Disruptors are typically the outsiders.  Disruption of their market is always inevitable, whether by them or someone else.  Their disruptions are always good for some people, and bad for others.

Most startup founders spend a lot of time thinking about how to bootstrap and growth hack their way to awareness and advocacy in their market.  The startup community and myriad of blog posts on the subject seem to indicate two things: first, that millennials do this best, and second, that you’ll do better if you’re deeply ensconced in a community of people who are doing the same, like Silicon Valley.  Trump has defied both of these.  His background is in real estate, not Washington or Silicon Valley.  And yet, on around a third of the funds raised by Clinton, and at 70 years old, he built viral support through PR, social media, events and super followers, all the way to the White House.

Trump disrupted the political establishment.  But this had to happen at some point.  If Clinton had won the election, a Clinton or a Bush would have occupied the White House for 28 of the 36 years between 1989 and 2025.  The competitiveness of the US economy is in trouble due to “political paralysis” and a “failing political system” according to a recent HBS report.  The general public may not have been aware of all the complexities behind this, but they saw, and indeed lived and died by, the consequences: unemployment, alcoholism, depression.  They wanted a change, and desperation rarely cares about what that change exactly looks like.

Disruption is always best for the disruptor.  Trump will do very well out of this - at the very least, he’ll be able to command much higher speaking fees at dinners for the rest of his life.  Disruption is also good for those who will benefit from the change, for example it’s likely that future candidates who have little in the way of prior political connections will also find a path to the White House.  Disruption is terrible for the incumbents, but nobody’s worrying too much about the Clinton or Bush families.  Regarding those whom the disruption is built on, the electorate, the jury’s out as to whether it will be good or bad for them.

But is this really so different from, say, Uber?  Uber’s disruption of the private taxi industry is best for Uber’s shareholders.  It’s good for Uber’s customers, who get cheaper and more convenient travel.  It’s terrible for private taxi companies.  Regarding the drivers, the jury’s out as to whether it is good or bad for them.

Many seem to be surprised and appalled that someone like Trump, with his unsavoury comments about immigrants and women, could possibly have achieved this.  But not dissimilarly, Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, has made comments to GQ about how easy it is for him to attract women now.  He has expressed a somewhat blasé attitude regarding safety issues for female customers.  He has been tolerant of executive Emil Michael, who recommended creating a large budget to smear critics.  And yet, we don’t seem to be surprised that people want to work for him or fund his company, and the media doesn’t even seem to care that much about his statements.

The fact is, disruption happens wherever there is dysfunction and inertia.  The person behind that disruption doesn’t need to have a shining PR record, or even a decent one.  They just need to execute well.  And, like him or not, Trump executed masterfully.