Whom did you disrupt this year? Did you shift any paradigms, transform any world views or reshape any landscapes?
Chances are you disambiguated, dethroned or digitized something this year. At least that’s what we in the buzz-word bubble expected. Were we mistaken? I wonder.
As 2016 draws to a close, it’s worth reexamining some of the clichés and platitudes that people like me have pushed in recent years. Here are some candidates:
Disrupt or Be Disrupted: Ask an entrepreneur who he or she wants to be and you will undoubtedly hear, “Uber,” which disrupted the taxi business despite having no cars or drivers. Uber’s genius, of course, is that it leveraged assets owned by others to create new and unprecedented value. No one in the history of business has ever done this before, except for all the companies that actually did. Apple, for example, disrupted the music business without owning big recording studios or music portfolios. Similarly, Amazon created disruption in the retail despite owning no stores, and so on and so on.
When you distill what disruptors actually do, you realize that they develop technology that either “lowers the cost of goods or services, creates an additional supply of goods or services or does both.”
Funny thing though about disruption: for all the people who set out to disrupt, even those with deep pockets, very few succeed. When I worked for Cisco, for example, the company believed it could disrupt video collaboration and cameras. Instead, Skype and GoPro—companies a fraction of it size—did instead.
Another thing about disruptors: they rarely topple markets as thoroughly as they set out to. Some people still use travel agents and planners, for example, and taxis by the score. You can think of disruptors as sculptors whose creations we admire and love. But they don’t eliminate the grinders who carve out niches and mine profits year after year.
Today’s Value Will Be Tomorrow’s Achilles: This chestnut comes in many flavors. Over the years it’s been called the “Innovators Dilemma” and the “incumbent’s curse,” which has given rise to “heritage” or defensive marketing.
The idea behind this maxim is that agility and speed will ultimately overcome size and scale. Instead of an invaluable asset, an ongoing revenue stream or installed base can become a burden or a distraction. When this happens, giants fall.
History tells us this has happened before. Think Kodak, Nokia and GM. Go back even further. Remember David and Goliath? Same thing. Or was it? It turns out the story is more complicated than what conventional wisdom says, according author and scholar Malcolm Gladwell.
Which brings me to common sense. No doubt organizations can be weighed down by ongoing revenue streams and legacy customer demands. (I’ve always believed that one sign of a health solution provider is that it generates at least 25 percent of its business from activities—customers, technologies, markets, etc.—that are less than 18 months old.) But your brand? Best practices? Executive leadership or business reputation? They count for plenty.
Bottom line: You worked your life to develop your goodwill. Don’t believe those who say it is worthless in a digital, globalized world.
Collaboration Is the Future: If you’ve worked in tech in the last decade, you’re heard this adage a million times. More broadly, you’ve surely heard someone say this: “If we get people in different parts of our organization working together, we can unlock value trapped within our solios.”
This thinking has led to a new movement in Corporate America. In the last decade, organizations have embraced new collaboration tools and reorganized governing structures. They have identified new priorities, reconfigured workspaces and implemented new ideas such as crowdsourcing competitions. While some workers have responded positively, productivity has taken a hit.
One reason is the amount of time we spend trying to connect with one another. Take me: I now use at least a dozen collaboration tools (Skype, Slack, email, SnapChat, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, JoinMe, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Spark, etc.) to connect with people who never seem to be where I last looked. So I waste a lot of time updating, downloading and searching. (Am I the only wondering, “doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?”)
Bottom line: You cannot mandate cooperation. Some people crave it; others loathe it.
A better way? Make your organization sufficiently flexible to foster teamwork, but not demonstratively skewed to force collaboration upon those who thrive without it.
This Changes Everything: Read Naomi Klein’s book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” per chance?
Holy cow what a book! In the bestseller she makes the persuasive case that, “There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed.”
That’s a bombshell, right? And with global implications for every one.
Despite the alarm, however, nothing seems to be changing. In the U.S., for example, we conducted a national election in 2016 with scant mention of the topic.
Which brings me to this: whether you believe in global warming or not, you have to ask yourself why the adage, “this changes everything” somehow doesn’t. The world should have freaked after the hacking scandals at Target, Home Depot, Yahoo and so on. But somehow security, infrastructure and privacy continue to get short shrift in many institutions worldwide.
Bottom line: If you believe “this changes everything” will open doors, you under-estimate how many minds remain closed to new thinking.
You Need a True North to Find Your Destiny: Any idea what’s guiding your company?
No? How about more customers, bigger profits, better relationships or more recurring revenue?
I spent the better part of 2016 interviewing partners and discussing their business challenges and opportunities. As you can imagine, I heard a lot about embracing the cloud, participating in customer’s business outcomes and putting data to work. I witnessed new vendors and business models gain momentum. And I saw plenty of new business combinations and ideas come to fore.
Of all the speakers and experts I heard, one stays with me most. It’s the presentation Maxwell Wessel delivered at the 2016 AppDirect Engage Conference in San Francisco. Wessel is a vice president at Sapphire Ventures and a lecturer at Stanford. At the Engage event, Wessel talked about finding your true north to guide your company.
Wessel isn’t the first to speak on this. He’s not even the first at Stanford to talk about finding a true north. But he did so thoughtfully and passionately, which is why this adage, among the many clichés and platitudes that you have been bombarded with in 2016, should inspire you in 2017.
The bottom line: If you don’t have a true north, then you really don’t know where you’re going. And that can lead you astray.
Happy Thanksgiving one and all.