Either You Drive Disruption Or You’re Outpaced By It

DISRUPT OR DIEIf you haven’t noticed, the Next Economy is here. Every single industry, domain and business is being disrupted by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain, internet of things, drones and 3D printing.

Technology is shaping everything that happens around us. From the way we work, operate, serve customers, collaborate, create and deliver value; it’s all changing. Technology will fundamentally challenge your business model. This means that existing business models will change or be replaced by new ones; while this is obvious to you and me it isn’t for everyone.

I recently spent a week in Mexico City working on a new product I’m co-developing with another company. Our collaboration is a classic case of new meets old, where I’m the new and they are the old. I get this incredible feeling when I collaborate with people who want to change things for the better, but it’s also incredible to spend time with people who are anchored in the status quo, so convinced that they’re right that they fight to maintain it.

Why is it incredible to spend time with people anchored in the status quo?

Because no matter how obvious it is, and they seem to get it, that technology is changing how they do things they still rationalize ways it isn’t. A usual quip is “oh that’s not going to happen here” or “it’s going to take awhile before it happens”. This is a clear sign of a playing not to lose mindset, and it’s very common anywhere you go; not just in Mexico.

The dafult state of every new idea is no, and every single innovator has to figure out a way to turn that no into a yes. It’s not easy because people are resistant to technology because they’re afraid of losing what they’ve built, what sustains them. This is “the messy part about innovation“, what no one talks about because they opted for an easier path. But the truth is change is messy, and no one is immune to it.

We don’t say “Innovate or die” to sound interesting and brave, but because it’s very true. You have to disrupt yourself, before someone disrupts you.

Thinking different isn’t enough, you have to act different

The company I’m collaborating with is open minded, but acting differently is a completely different story. Being open minded isn’t enough, you have to act to truly challenge your assumptions. You see, legacy industries that have survived the information technology phase must now truly become technology companies at their core. Think about it this way: You’re either a digital business or a dead business; and it applies to everyone.

This requires developing new capabilities and business models, which means getting out of your comfort zone. To do so is to face the same digital transformation challenges every established organization has: existing practices, standards and culture.

For example, my collaborators have a very standarized process that they’ve optimized throughout the years. And they have a deep need to maintain those standards because it makes their work predicable and their business sustainable. So, it’s not surprising that they immediately went up in arms when I came in and challenged their standards.

Keeping up with technology requires experimentation

Companies fail for many reasons, one of them is because they miss the future. The reason they miss the future is because success breeds failure. You see, any company that’s been successful for some time will develop a very specific competence that they can repeat infinitely, but it’s this competence that impedes them from growing beyond that. As Bill Taylor says, “What you know limits what you can imagine“.

You have to imagine possibilities and take action, because your existing business model is based on a specific set assumptions which will not be true forever; in order to shift your perspective you have to challenge them. A big challenge for every organization and their leaders is keeping up with technology, not just understanding it but being able to think thrugh the possibilities it enables and the opportunities it creates.

So, to avoid missing the future you have to do a few things:

  1. Understand that standarization is the enemy of innovation; you’re anchored to your existing practices, standards and culture.
  2. Sharpen your business acumen to keep up with emerging technologies; ask yourself tough why, how, what and what if questions.
  3. Challenge your assumptions by experimenting. It’s not enough to just read about a technology, you need to experiment; there is no innovation without experimentation.

Organizations that drive disruption understand that change isn’t about rationalizing why something won’t happen, it’s about considering how things could be better if you decide to do something about it.

Bottom line: Innovation doesn’t respect tradition. Either you drive disruption or you’re outpaced by it.

Also published on Medium.