Are You Disruption Ready?

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The 3 questions you need to ask yourself right now if you want to leverage disruption.

There are just three questions you need to ask yourself to determine whether you and your organisation are disruption-ready:

  1. Does your executive team have an aligned view of disruption?

  2. Is your strategy focused on leveraging disruption?

  3. Are your key stakeholders committed to taking action?

That’s it. Your answers to those three questions mean everything.

Disruption, which can be simply put as: any development that creates a new market while destroying or displacing another, tends to challenge any black-and-white thinker. That’s because with disruption, there’s no clean separation between opportunity and risk—it all depends on how you approach it.

Maybe you work in manufacturing and the convergence of 3-D printing and ultra-light materials at scale is about to wreak havoc on your industry. Maybe you work in health care and new analytic capabilities will allow some organisations in your field to diagnose diseases at literally the touch of a button. Maybe you work in customer service and the emergence of sophisticated digital interfaces—and eventually, artificial intelligence—promises to displace at least some of your company’s services.

Do these developments make you fearful or terribly, terribly excited?

Disruption-ready organisations and individuals have made leveraging change on the horizon a way of life because they understand that change marches onward relentlessly—and with increasing speed. Technology, politics, culture, the environment—all of these factors and more are driving historical change at an exponential clip. It isn’t just you—the pace of change is exponential—and impacts everything. One day a company like Amazon can disrupt brick and mortar retailers by operating with very low margins. And then, out of nowhere, a company like Alibaba can facilitate consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer, and business-to-business sales with absolutely no margins.

The disruptor can always become the disrupted. Disruption never plays favorites.

So given the unrelenting and exponential pace of change, how can you make disruption your friend? How can you prepare yourself to benefit from, rather than fall afoul of, disruption’s creative destruction?

If our years coaching organisations contending with the proliferating risks and opportunities of this disruptive age have taught us anything, it’s that preparation beats passivity. So once again, to gauge how prepared you are to meet with disruption, there are three questions you need to ask yourself right now:

Does your executive team have an aligned view of disruption?

Disruption-ready organisations and individuals don’t march to the beat of vision statements that are perennially out of step with reality. They aren’t led around by vague aspirations or myopic mission statements. Rather, they work under leaders who have a realistic and shared view of disruption. These leaders are plugged into real-world conditions, always seeking ways to leverage disruption for the benefit of their organisations.

 These leaders also know that disruption goes far beyond the digital. Disruption-readiness isn’t about commissioning a new app or a prettier website. For these plugged-in and agile leaders, disruption is a 360-degree phenomenon, coming at them from every conceivable angle. For example, a disruption-ready leader won’t bemoan the instabilities of a globalized economy. Rather, she will be busy figuring out ways to market her products to transitioning economies in the developing world.

 Does your leadership truly “get” disruption? Do the people in charge agree with each other about how disruption might impact their organisation? Do they have a shared view of how the organisation must move forward to proactively meet with challenges? Or do they rigidly defend outdated strategies and sweetly delusional vision and mission statements?

 Specifically, does your leadership:

  1. Have a common understanding of what disruption is and how it might impact your organisation?

  2. Consciously and openly agree that disruption exists to be leveraged?

  3. Take the exponential (i.e., increasingly rapid) nature of disruption into account and understand how much time remains before disruptive changes will have an irreversible impact on your organisation?

  4. Know what Managed Adaptive Decline or MAD is all about (i.e. adapting to declining conditions in a well-managed manner— like: “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”) and whether your organisation has fallen prey to it?

Is your strategy focused on leveraging disruption?

If you produce a product that generates 45% of your company’s revenue, how attached to that precious little widget are you likely to be? If you were Steve Jobs, surveying the rapidly shifting sands of digital disruption in 2005, the answer would be: not so much.

That year, Apple sold 20 Million iPods, the wondrous MP3 player that put whole music collections into people’s pockets. But Jobs, as a leader habitually plugged into real-world emerging conditions, noticed that cell phones with cameras were gobbling up the digital camera’s market share. He foresaw the same fate befalling the iPod. He knew he had a choice: watch the iPod get decimated by some competitor’s music-playing phone, or stay a step ahead by having Apple produce its own.

In fact, that’s always the choice: stay ahead of disruption to reap its benefits, or lag behind to taste its consequences. Disruption-ready organisations produce strategies that are focused on leveraging opportunity and mitigating risk—and all in one fell swoop, as Apple did in 2005 (among many other times). Think of it this way: you can be the disruption or simply be disrupted.

Does your strategy reflect shifting real-world conditions? Or is it backward-looking, overly attached to past or present successes?

Specifically, does your team:

  1. Have a shared understanding of what immediate and emergent conditions (i.e. factors that influence outcomes) are especially relevant to your organisation?

  2. Understand which of these conditions constitute “disruptors”, or factors that have the potential to “change the game” for your organisation?

  3. Identify both the strategic risks and strategic opportunities within these disruptors?

  4. Understand how both these risks and opportunities might impact your organisation’s ability to generate sustainable value (i.e., to be an organisation, like Apple, that people count on to meet their needs)?

  5. Understand what capabilities you need to generate that value—and how, if they’re missing, you can get them and at what cost?

  6. Have the capability to keep up with the speed and impact of disruption?

Are your key decision makers committed to taking action?

Look, everybody likes a good Steve Jobs story. It’s in vogue to muse about the impact of digital, or the need for innovation, or the merits of visionary leadership. But leveraging disruption is hard work. It’s not a managerial tweak or food for thought at your next corporate get-away.

It’s a commitment to re-think the capability your team needs to become agile in the face of exponential change.

Disruption-ready organisations do whatever it takes to harness change in order to continually produce value for their customers and shareholders. It’s simply part of their culture. Is your organisation prepared to do what it takes?

Specifically, does your organisation: 

  1. Have the support of senior decision makers to make disruption-leveraging a priority?

  2. Have the support of stakeholders (e.g. board members, shareholders, line management, staff) to make the necessary adjustments to leverage disruption?

  3. Have the resources to develop a strategic response to disruption?

  4. Have the willingness to invest in training staff to take on the challenge of leveraging disruption?

So, three questions. Ask them right now.

Be painfully honest with yourself. If you put off asking them because you’re not sure you want to hear the answers, chances are disruption won’t arrive as a friend. But don’t lose hope. As of right now, you still have time to put your house in order. Just not a lot of time.

If you are able to confidently answer yes to these three questions, fear not. Chances are you will find a niche within disruption to generate value, remain relevant, and do more than just weather the shocks. You’ll actually enjoy the ride.

Larry Quick is CEO of Resilient Futures and co-author of  Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change.

Larry Quick is CEO of Resilient Futures and co-author of Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change.

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Ready to leverage disruption or want to learn more? To get started on the pathway to making you and your organisation disruption ready, contact us here.