There is a great little quote about ‘disruptive technologies’ that is regularly bandied around, although I’m not entirely sure of its origin:
‘Disrupt your own business before someone else does’
It’s very good advice – don’t wait to be rendered irrelevant by some maverick startup that comes out of left-field, and has the audacity to do what you’re doing – only better. It’s certainly wise to start thinking about how you could combat a new entrant, build resilience in your organisation, and make it undisruptible.
But how many organisations actually do it? Most organisations that I have worked in are seemingly very content to perpetuate the status quo, without any serious examination of their business model and how it might be impacted by changing circumstances.
‘Disruptive innovation‘, a term first coined by Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen, is everywhere. And many companies have already been consigned to the annals of history by the rapid onset of a new innovation that entirely up-ended their business model. Here are some examples:
- Despite being the original founder of the digital camera way back in 1975, Kodak chose to focus on its photographic film business, ultimately resulting in bankruptcy as its competitors chose to take the alternative digital pathway.
- Netflix started out as a DVD postal distribution service, but now as a video on-demand provider, it has all but destroyed the video rental industry – Blockbuster, VideoEzy et al.
- Research in Motion (now Blackberry Limited) was lauded for its innovative business-oriented Blackberry mobile device products in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it was eclipsed by Apple, Samsung and Google. As was Nokia. No self-respecting person uses a Blackberry or a Nokia these days, except maybe your grandfather.
- Amazon.com was responsible for the death of a swathe of bricks-and-mortar bookstores in the US and beyond, with the job of a bookseller largely replaced by a powerful online algorithm.
- Uber is getting the better of the taxi lobby in a growing number of jurisdictions around the world. It’s only time before Uber wins this battle and the taxi industry is irretrievably changed forever.
So how can you combat ‘disruptive innovation’? Here are some thoughts:
- Start questioning why your organisation does things the way they do. Get out of your comfort zone and embrace the uncomfortable. Scrutinise and question every aspect of your business. Challenge the ‘default settings’ and the status quo. Take a granular approach and leave nothing out.
- Do it now. Right now. Don’t wait to be challenged. ‘Disrupting’ yourself at the peak of your powers is the best time. If you wait until the hordes appear on the horizon, then it’s too late: you won’t be able to deliver a coordinated response quickly enough and it will be all over bar the shouting.
- Take a customer-centric perspective to everything that your organisation does. Put yourselves into the customer’s shoes. How do your products and services come across to the customer? Is it a frictionless experience for them? Do customers love dealing with your business? If not, fix it and fix it fast. Sub-standard customer experiences is where the disrupters focus their attention.
- Aim for small, quick wins, rather than wholesale changes with a long time horizon. Improve stuff iteratively. Test and adjust. Jettison the stuff that doesn’t work, hone the stuff that does.
- Hire trailblazers, non-conformists and ‘originals’ (or hire me as a consultant!). Forget the prescriptive job descriptions. Hire people who are thinkers, are full of ideas and have verve and vim. It doesn’t matter if they’re not a 100% technical fit – they can learn that stuff. It’s the soft skills, personality traits and cultural fit that count the most. Sure, these people can be difficult to manage at times, but they’ll also stop at nothing to reinvent your business from the inside out.
- Involve all staff in your organisation’s challenge to stay relevant. Don’t just dictate strategy from on-high and treat staff like functionaries. Allow them to participate in the process. If you do, you’ll get ‘buy in’ and you’ll more closely align your organisation’s culture with its strategy.
- Stay on your toes and keep yourself informed about the competitive landscape. Understand that serious competition can materialise very quickly, and often from an unexpected place.