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?

Kelly D. Scott
The world’s leading business advisory and executive coaching organization