Cloud and mobile technologies, platform economies, robotics, the list goes on. Disruption dominates the news cycle and is at the heart of the next big thing. Often associated with crisis, disruption is the power that rolls straight over the status quo on its way to tomorrow.
It can be painful. It can destroy industries and change the lives of those who are caught unaware or refuse to acknowledge its arrival. However, the crisis of disruption can be overplayed. Sometimes things change because a new way is found and while it shares some of the same felt effects as crisis, it also ushers in a better world.
The industrial revolution was driven by the advent of coal and steam technology, not because of a supply crisis in wood. With it sails and tall ships were replaced by steel hulls and steam engines, and the world changed forever. In turn the age of steam gave way to oil and the internal combustion engine, and with it the human race experienced, for the first time, powered flight. So how can we be like the Wright Brothers, how can we harness the power of disruption, how do we use disruption to lead?
It’s about why, not how
Disruption is most challenging to those who rely on the mantra of ‘that’s how we do things around here’ or ‘we’ve always made/delivered that’.
However, a business, a function, or a leader who believes, and can articulate their own personal why, rather than default to the how or what will see disruption as both a challenge and an opportunity to do things better.
Remember your why and consider how disruption to the status quo might mean you can build better relationships with existing customers, engage with new customers and give more options to your people about how they do their job.
Consider your vulnerabilities
While its okay to ‘sing when you’re winning’ it’s also important to consider how you might lose. Ask yourself the following questions and they’ll help you better understand how you might be disrupted.
If you are a monopoly, how might someone turn over the playboard?
If you are unique, how might someone replicate it?
If you are complex, how might someone devolve that complexity?
If you have knowledge, how might it be discovered and shared?
If you are protected by regulation, how might that be challenged?
Technology is at the very heart of disruption, and its disruptive power is directly linked to the potential technology can create. The digital camera is one of the great disruptors. As the first digital cameras entered the market some saw them for what they were, a poor substitute for 35mm film. However, others saw the potential: they saw what the new digital camera might one day become. Those who realised its potential flourished, those who didn’t, disappeared.
Take a deep dive into how your business operates, look for the areas that utilise technology, and those that don’t. Consider retail technology, for instance, with online shopping and cashless POS. How do these changes challenge the status quo?
Talk about the big, wide world
It used to be said that we needed to think global and act local. Maybe we need to do both. While many disruptors are occurring around the world, they are felt locally. We need to have our antennae operating in all directions. The good news is that within your team, function and organisation you will very likely have some early adopters of disruptive technology.
Talk to these trailblazers and understand why they have embraced disruption. Once you have the conversation going, ask them how they might disrupt their own jobs, how disruption could improve the way they currently go about meeting customer needs and where disruption might be used to open up whole new markets, and create whole new service offerings. Within your teams you’ve got a powerful brains trust, so use it!
Operations, growth, and thresholds
Disruption, and disruptive technologies not only fundamentally change whole industries; they can be used to improve them. It’s all comes down to the level of how you use them.
Operations: With an understanding of how a team, function or organisation operates you can explore how to disrupt those operations to improve outputs and outcomes.
Growth: Disruption also allows you to consider how to grow, both along existing lines as well as into new markets, product lines and services.
Thresholds: If operations are about getting better, and growth is about getting bigger through disruption, then thresholds is about stepping off into un-chartered territory and into the land of innovation. Disruption is innovation, a whole new way of being, doing, achieving, and succeeding. Make time to consider how innovation and disruption can drive your team, function, and organisation to cross thresholds.
Leaders must be decision makers
If disruption is an unstoppable force, don’t be an immovable object. Even if you can hold your ground, your reward will be you get to turn off the lights. Disruption can’t be dealt with through an approach of ‘we’ll wait and see’, ‘we’re working on it’, or ‘we are about to start developing a strategy’.
Disruption requires decision making, both to deal with it, and to harness its power. Decisions don’t always have to be at the organisational level, they might be at a functional or team level. However they must be about moving forward. Why? Well the disruption isn’t standing still, so why would you?
If disruption is hanging over you, get tactical, get focused and work up scenarios about a way forward. Not every scenario will work, however having options allows for more flexible solutions, while decision making lets you put options into action.
If you want to transform through disruption don’t just accept it, drive it at all levels. Move your team, function or organisation beyond its comfort zone, to create energy and allow new approaches to take hold.
So, one last thought. About 65 million years ago T-Rex and Co experienced a little planetary disruption. The thing is, that comet would have been visible for some time. So, look up, can you see a comet? If the answer is yes, start transforming to meet the challenge. However, if there is no comet, you have a great opportunity to ask, ‘what if’ and evolve your business using the power of disruption.