To innovate or to disrupt?


For years now we have been trying to shock leaders into action with statements such as “innovate or die” or “burning platforms” or “your industry competitors in 10 years time haven’t been founded yet”.

Whilst most still haven’t really grasped what it means to create and foster true organisational agility, we are shifting the goalposts again.

A few years ago, it was enough to do business with a few of the top right quadrant cloud SaaS vendors and setup an innovation hub.  Now it seems the only way to survive and gain an advantage on your competitors is to create the disruption yourself.

I must admit, the most inspired I have ever been is when my CTO stated that if you are expecting to be disrupted, why not seek out and create that disruption yourself?

There seems to still be a kind of arrogance in large enterprise businesses, in particular I’ve observed in retail.  A sense that we are still too big to fail and if we do tomorrow what we did yesterday, then we will still have high spending and loyal customers.

I’m being harsh, there is some great work that goes on under very challenging circumstances.  However, customers care little for legacy infrastructure and high levels of technical debt; they are more interested in software that makes for friction-less and valuable experiences.

So what am I jabbering on about?  I suppose it’s the fact that whilst sat at some recent “IT” conferences, I felt that although there is a world of opportunity out there, we only ever seem to be playing catch-up.  Talking about what could be possible, if only we had the time, money and capability.

Retailers always bemoan being one step behind their pureplay/digital/startup counterparts, in a constant battle to stay relevant.

I would suggest it’s time to be brave.  We need to accept that every single company will eventually go out of business, some faster than others, but all will fall.  Some will pivot business models, some will launch new brands and some will move into entirely new sectors.  Only Trigger from “Only Fools and Horses” would claim that it’s still the same broom.

I think it’s time to start looking at that broom and stop thinking about the process and materials taken to make the broom faster and cheaper.  Stop thinking about sweeping and start thinking about why we need to sweep in the first place.

When thinking about traffic congestion, Elon Musk decided to go down not up.  This took him on a journey to create the boring company, challenging each and every assumption along the way.  He had no real right and no real experience to question long standing rules and regulations, but we are all glad that he is.

We are on the cusp of another wave of change, often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.  Whether you believe it, all or some of it will touch our lives very soon and some already has; robotics, chatbots, automation (RPA), cryptography, block chain, distributed ledger technology, predictive medicine, drones, iOT, platform economy, AI, machine learning, human 2.0, Elon Musk….

As Matthew Griffen said: “Do you want to innovate or do you want to change the world?”

Answering this question in any business is crucial.  I know change is hard, I know transformation is years in the making but as leaders ask yourself this – if our company, our brand, our products did not exist, would anybody be worse off?

Grasp that and turn it into a vision.  Know why you exist, know what problems you are solving and inspire not just your customers but most importantly your employees.  Those teams that work in your innovation hubs don’t (in the main) come into work simply for the money.  They want to do their best work knowing that the work they do is meaningful.

In the same way coming in and playing with cool gadgets will not motivate many for long.  The snooker tables and bean bags are not the main requirement for innovation, they become symbolic of the culture you are aiming to foster.  One of trust, autonomy and experimentation.

The exciting but terrifying thing for most leaders in this new and ever changing world is that we cannot create a roadmap, set deadlines and set teams to work safe in the knowledge we will be successful.  A lot of ideas, however much we validate them, will ultimately not have the desired impact.  The behaviour of humans is changing.  The way we interact with the world and each other is changing.  So we must be open to experimenting and learning.

For those developing eCommerce solutions, voice could completely change the way you do business, it could even make the idea of a brand irrelevant. “Alexa, order me some batteries”.  People won’t ask Alexa for a specific retailer and possibly not even a particular brand of battery.  For those doing logistics, machine learning coupled with autonomous lorries and robotics could change all that you do.  This is no longer just interesting futurology, this is reality.

It’s a brave new world out there and one I am really looking forward to.

So ask yourself this, what’s your product or service equivalent to the broom?  Ask do we even need a broom?  Do we even still need to sweep?

Never waste a crisis.  Now is the time to make change.




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