10/23/2014 Peter Durantine

The Art of Disruption: Finding Opportunities in the Spaces

Progress and change occur, according to the classic theory, when the status quo is suddenly disrupted.

Dr. Joan Fallon '79 disagrees.

"I don't think that's exactly how it happens," Fallon told the Franklin & Marshall community during the Oct. 23 Common Hour, a community discussion held every Thursday during the academic year.

  • Questioning the status quo is how opportunites are found and progress is made, not matter what the field of endeavor, said Dr. Joan Fallon '79, the Oct. 23 Common Hour speaker. Questioning the status quo is how opportunites are found and progress is made, not matter what the field of endeavor, said Dr. Joan Fallon '79, the Oct. 23 Common Hour speaker. Image Credit: Melissa Hess

Fallon said there are spaces in the status quo where disruption occurs, and recognizing those spaces -- and the opportunities they represent -- allows the curious and the insightful to be creative, which kickstarts progress and facilitates change.

She cited the former record store, Tower Records, yesterday's version of today's iTunes store. It survived many changes -- transistor radio, reel-to-reel tapes, eight-track tapes, cassette tapes and the Walkman, to name a few.

"But it couldn't survive the iPod," Fallon said.

Disruptors such as Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, succeeded because they looked at the status quo and found creativity in the spaces.

They succeeded, Fallon said, because "they saw the spaces."

Fallon, too, sees the spaces. She attributes that vision to the liberal arts education she received at F&M, where she majored in biology. The drug development and research company she founded and leads, Curemark LLC, is built on her discovery that children with autism had low levels of an enzyme that digests protein. Her firm is developing a replacement enzyme to counteract the problem.

"Because I looked in between the spaces, that's where the problem was," Fallon said.  

Her liberal arts education taught her to question conventional assumptions -- the status quo -- broadening her views and understanding of the world.

"It's more valuable than anything else I've had in my life," Fallon said.

Fallon concluded by telling the students in the audience that their education will serve them well in whatever they choose to do in life.

"In the real world, you can apply that liberal arts education as an umbrella," Fallon said. "A liberal arts education allows you to enhance the spaces."

Afterward, sophomore Emily Lowery, a biochemistry major, said she was intrigued by Fallon's arguments for disruption, but questioned its application in certain cases.

"The idea of disrupting the status quo as a woman in science is a little tough since there are not many women in the field," Lowery said.

Sophomore Kate Lappin, a psychology major, said she found Fallon's application of disruption to science and business to be inspiring.

"She spoke to my ideals," Lappin said.

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