Are You the Disruptor or the One Being Disrupted?

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

The term disrupt is defined as: to drastically alter, to interrupt; to change. In businesses today, industry disruption, a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses, has now become more present than ever. From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to see which previously dominated industries are currently being disrupted: TV with streaming services, retail with e-commerce, newspapers with blogs and social media, taxis with Uber, hotels with Airbnb, radio with Spotify, and countless others. However, it is rather difficult to uncover what is disrupting our business from an inside perspective. That is why it is imperative for us to look at our companies unbiased from the outside-in. To put it bluntly, your company is currently one of either two things: the disruptor or the one being disrupted.

Companies that dominate today’s markets are proactive rather than reactive with implementing their strategies. In this quickly transforming digital environment, new, disrupting companies are not afraid to take risks and are willing to fail often. Success for them is not finding one brilliant idea and latching onto it, rather balancing and testing multiple strategies concurrently. In contrast, the companies that think they are doing well right now, simply operating “business as usual” are the ones more likely to become complacent and be left behind.

Large, successful companies take longer to implement change in their businesses, like turning a giant ship, it takes time. This leaves ample room for smaller, more agile and innovative companies to emerge who are willing to take risks and disrupt the previous market dominance. Mark Zuckerberg, who created his billion dollar company under the noses of countless media giants stated, “In a world that’s changing so quickly, the biggest risk you can take is not taking any risk at all.”

This presents us with the idea of embodying a disruptive mindset for our businesses. Not necessarily the perspective of “how can I be more like Amazon?” Attempting to play catch-up to these disrupting companies is futile.  Instead, envision what risk/strategies are companies like Amazon planning to take next? This constantly evolving, disruptive mindset is what we should strive to obtain in all our various industries; always thinking multiple steps ahead.

So how can we position ourselves to be disruptors?

First, hedge for inevitable disruption, adapt your business to move quickly, fail quickly, and learn quickly. This sets you up to be a front runner when, not if, the industry or market shifts. Next, understand that customer expectations are always changing. Today, easy and near instantaneous access to the best customer experiences, like Amazon, Uber, Venmo, Instagram, etc. enables customer expectations to be set extremely high. If we don’t like the experience, we move on because there are plenty of other options available. Finally, find a balance between risk and reward. Pick audacious challenges and form a culture that inspires passion, creates urgency, and understands both their importance in today’s evolving digital landscape. Disruptions do not have to come from one big idea, instead search for small solutions to big problems. Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of Trend Hunter, urges executives to “Be curious, be insatiable, be willing to destroy.” Once your business has embodied all of those things, ask yourself once more: Are you the disruptor? Or are you the one being disrupted?

Optimization vs. Maximization; Sustainability, Fad or the Future?

“Great design is not just a solution, it is the elimination of the problem.”-M. Cobanli

2019 marks a pivotal year in the consumer realm. Regardless of what you might think of them, millennials are set to overtake the boomer-generation this year with a consumer base of 73 million individuals in the US; and a total of 2 billion worldwide. Millenials have reached what Morgan Stanley calls “the most important age range for economic activity.” This juncture has long been foreseen and feared by various companies’ whose brands were designed and catered to the boomer generation. Low product prices are no longer king.

In a poll done by Nielsen, 30,000 consumers from 60 different countries around the world were surveyed to pinpoint what influences the way they feel about brands, and how those feelings affected their buying behavior. The overwhelming conclusion: the majority of global consumers (66%) stated they are willing to pay more for one thing: sustainability. This was particularly prevalent for millennials, with 73% stating they are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings.

The prevalence of sustainability in the minds of today’s consumers is gaining traction, now you must ask yourself: is it worth the time, effort, and resources to obtain this goal of sustainability in our own organizations? Up until recently, product sourcing was not even a consideration when choosing one product over another. It was price and reliability. People in this growingly interconnected world are now beginning to value where their products come from and whether the company is a responsible corporate citizen. How can we adapt to this changing consumer demand?

The solution to any given problem is not always a new innovative idea. Often, the best solution is the simplest one, and nature with its elegant processes and designs can be our greatest teacher in this endeavor. Life on this planet has had 3.8 billion years of research and development to find what works, what lasts, and what systems are the most time and resource efficient. For example, bees when given a new field or meadow of flowers, select the most optimal beehive location 95% of the time, minimizing travel distance to the greatest concentration of flowers. What company searching for a new headquarters or distribution center location wouldn’t want to have that success rate from a supply chain standpoint?

Drawing inspiration and design blueprints from nature has been coined as Biomimicry. This divergent way of thinking presents businesses with a unique bridge between sustainability, a word commonly associated with giving up something essential and stifling productivity and transforming it into predictable growth, optimal efficiency, and virtually endless economic opportunity.

For example, Speedo used the design pattern of shark’s skin to greatly reduce water resistance and resulted in dozens of broken swimming records at the 2008 Summer Olympics. The design was so effective it has since been banned from competition. An engineer tasked with quieting the bullet train’s sonic boom took inspiration from the beak of the kingfisher bird. Using this design pictured above, the engineer not only eliminated the sonic boom, but he increased the train’s speed by 10% while consuming 15% less energy. These are just a few examples of using nature’s elegant designs and applying them to profitable business avenues. All while appealing to this new consumer preference towards sustainable and eco-conscious products.

Life ultimately produces zero waste in closed-loop systems; in other words, one organism’s waste becomes the next organism’s input or raw material. We can learn from this self-sustaining process and apply it to our businesses. John D Rockefeller built a billion dollar empire by repurposing a waste product from the petroleum industry, Gasoline. In doing so, he provided his company massive value from a product that was otherwise discarded. This gives a whole new meaning to “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  Ask yourself: are there any waste byproducts in your own business that could be used as an alternative input or repurposed into an entirely new product? John D Rockefeller made himself a millionaire asking this very question.

The only constant in life is change. In the natural world, it is either adapt or die.  That is why nature has learned over millions of years to embody resilience, the ability to withstand unforeseen disturbances and adapt accordingly. Is this not what we strive to obtain for our businesses as well?  Not just a company that will be successful 5 months or 5 years from now, but 50 years from now.

Sustainability has gained a negative rap for its perceived reduction in business productivity.  But in this new biomimicry perspective, it’s about abundance and optimization; it’s about increased energy efficiency and resource allocation, resulting in cost savings; it’s about optimizing instead of maximizing, a reduction in weight but an increase in strength; it’s about eliminating waste, and creating value at each step of the supply chain in a closed-loop system. Which industry analyst, potential investor, or board of directors wouldn’t be excited at these prospects? When presented with the next technical problem facing your business, do not be afraid to ask: “How would nature solve this?” you may be surprised at its simplistic genius.

Kelly D. Scott
Chairman/CEO
Vistage Florida
better leaders ● decisions ● results