All disruptors are innovators, but not all innovators are disruptors. The disruption comes when an innovative idea, product or way of performing an action completely changes how an industry works. Think of how your phone now is also your camera, flashlight, calendar, game console, medium for watching movies and more. That disrupted – changed – everything, especially if you were in the camera or flashlight or other affected businesses/industries.
Disruption some times comes with great fanfare and ego. Napster wanted you to know they changed how we got music. Apple wanted you to know how they changed the complete music industry. Other disruptions have massive impact, but come from a more quiet place, and while there may be fanfare, it came from the excitement of others not from the disruptor itself. A really amazing example is the plow. Yes, the plow. It changed everything in agriculture and goes back millennia. There is no solitary credited inventor. Undeniably, it made work faster and more efficient. It also led to surplus food, which could then be used to trade and in other forms of commerce.
Innovation in all types of human services can improve business process, reform how people get served, and improve outcomes. Innovation proves that hope is alive and well, though it requires risk to turn that hope into action. We have had some disruptors that have taken innovation to a new level and changed the way that services to people that are homeless get delivered. A few of those include Homeless Management Information Systems, by-name registries of people that need to be housed, and Housing First (the intervention; not the philosophy). Each of these disrupted how business had been done in the sector, took the place of previous approaches, altered investments, were met with great resistance, and are proven to work.
Last month, as Mark Horvath and I were talking in Florida, he was right in stating that we have not had our “iPhone” moment in homeless and housing services. We have had disruptions. We have had some big shifts. We have not had the moment that turns the entire industry on its head. As he points out, while everyone seems to be talking Housing First, a huge chunk of it is formalized common sense, and there are so many parallels to different forms of supportive housing in North America and parts of Europe that the disruption may be more aligned to the applicability than the idea itself. The 100K Homes Campaign radically altered how communities think about prioritizing service delivery and got people to find a sense of urgency in housing people that were really vulnerable. In many communities this was disruptive, but given the debates that continue in many of those communities about system flow and access to resources, it is not always the case that the campaign provided a permanent disruption.
If we collectively commit to failing forward and the relentless pursuit of innovation in what we do, I have hope that we will find the iPhone equivalent disruption. It may very well be something that will happen sooner rather than later if, for example, we find a new and novel way to combine Housing First with SPDAT and prioritization, while also finding a new approach to funding the housing sustainably. Who knows. What I know is that I want to keep working until I find the disruption that changes everything.