You have heard the word disruption; you know what that is. And you have heard the word digital. You know what that is, too. But put them together – digital disruption – and they add up to much more than the mere sum of their parts. Digital disruption, when properly understood, should terrify you.

Three sources of digital power – the prevalence of free tools and services that enable disruptors to rapidly build products and services, the rise of digital platforms that are easily exploited by aspiring competitors from all directions, and the burgeoning class of digital consumers ready to accept new services – have combined to unleash a disruptive force that will completely alter every business on the planet. Digital disruption isn’t disruption squared. It’s the disruption of disruption itself.

Most people I meet think they get digital disruption. And a survey of global executives we conducted shows that 89% of executives believe that digital will disrupt their industry. But they don’t realize just how big a deal disruption will be when it finally hits them.

I have been writing and speaking about digital disruption for years – full time for more than a year now – and it still manages to surprise me. In the month of October, I’ll keynote several Forrester Forums and there confess that digital disruption is even more powerful than I thought it was when I wrote the original Disruptor’s Handbook in 2011. What have I learned?

  • Digital disruption is already remaking even industries that have no digital products. Think you have some time to wait because apps aren’t relevant to you? I have interviewed C-level executives at companies from industries as diverse as the pharmaceutical industry and the construction supplies business. These particularly smart leaders report to me that they already see digital disruption opportunities, and they happily report that they are already deep into exploiting them.
  • Digital will disrupt your product, but only if you let it disrupt your process. I’ve met with CIOs and even outsourcing managers and they all agree: Your company’s product experience can only be as digital as your company’s process enables. And that’s a problem, because just 39% of executives we surveyed believe that their companies have the policies and practices necessary to adapt to digital.
  • Digital disruption depends on free tools, and more free tools are coming. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook – this is just the easy list of companies I can recite that have introduced free tool after free tool. Want to become an Amazon merchant? Sign up in 5 minutes and pay nothing. Want to develop experiences that use the Kinect for Xbox 360? The Software Development Kit is free. There is such a thing as a free lunch, and in fact, the lunch buffet is getting bigger, while the entry price to grab a plate and join the feast is not rising.

So while most of us think we know what digital disruption means because we live digital lives and we’ve read all about disruption, most of us – especially those of us at the top of the organization – are at risk if we fail to realize just how powerful digital disruption is, how quickly it will undo us, and how diligently we have to work to join it. Join me at any of the following Forrester Events to take this conversation further and learn how to digitally disrupt yourself before someone else does it to or for you. See you there.

Co-located London Summits, October 4th:
Embracing Digital Disruption
: A Summit for Business Architecture and Process Professionals
Developing Digital Disruption
: A Summit for Application Development and Delivery Professionals

Forrester Forums in Orlando, October 18 – 19th:
Leading Digital Disruption
: A Forum for CIOS (Co-located forum with Business Architecture and Process Pros & Application Development and Delivery Pros)

Forrester Forum in Chicago, October 25 – 26th:
Seizing Opportunity from Digital Disruption
: A Forum for eBusiness Professionals (Note that this forum was previously the Consumer Forum, but this year is drilling down to focus on digital disruption opportunities in eBusiness

P.S. Boy, James, it seems that you're so focused on digital disruption, why don't you just write a book on it? Great idea! Stay tuned, more info coming soon.