Navigating Disruptive Business Shifts– Create Relevance, Adapt Change, Leverage Creativity: Business Darwinism…

Many believe that disruptive business shifts through innovation (i.e., shifts that either threaten the very survival of an organization, or provide a hyper-growth opportunity) is the ‘new normal’… and leaders must have specific competencies that enable them to navigate through a wide-range of business ambiguities, uncertainties…

Meaning that business leaders must be able to push personal boundaries, challenge assumptions, take steps into the unknown with the view that failure is not failure but rather a stepping stone for business sustainability… To lead disruptive innovation leaders must disrupt their most fundamental mindsets and established behaviors… According to Soren Kaplan; leaders must acknowledge and embrace a life of continuous ambiguity and uncertainty as they navigate through disruptive change and create breakthroughs that leapfrog traditional ways of doing business…

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Webster’s dictionary defines disruptive as– to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way, to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something)… and for business enterprises this can be very powerful stuff… What do disruptive businesses have in common? According to Steve Faber; most business disruption has at least one of the following: 1) They are not satisfied with the status quo and delivered a user experience that customers did not even know they wanted until they got it… 2) They broke the business model mold and rationalized that just because everyone else markets a certain way does not mean it’s the only way, or best way, they looked for something new… 3) They created an exceptional value proposition… Fundamentally there are no set rules for disruption– disruptive business is about doing things differently, it’s about redefining the user experience, it’s about revolutionizing the customer…

It’s the Holy Grail for many companies– disruptive business innovation that transforms or creates new markets, for example; music, entertainment, computing, mobile phone, book publishing, photography, healthcare industries… all have experienced dramatic change due to new technologies, business models, distribution channels, government regulations, market expectations… Companies in these industries have been forced to experiment and change, and not just to compete but to survive…

Research suggests that successful disruptors typically work to bring about change in two or three links in the chain, simultaneously, for example, consider Apple’s concurrent innovations in– supply chain, manufacturing, and customer experience: The product itself is simply the most visible link in the disruption chain… According to Charles Darwin; it’s not the strongest of the species that survive; it’s the ones most adaptable to change… 

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In the article How Your Company Can Harness the Future by Mary O’Hara-Devereaux writes: Business and the economy are changing so fast it is hard to keep up… Few things last forever, and it’s common for organizations to think their strategy, business model or unique technology are forever sustainable… but it’s leadership’s job to determine what aspects of an organization are unsustainable, e.g.; strategy, process, product, structure, customer base…

They must ask themselves: When will the useful life of any of these elements end? When is the best time to cease investment in it and switch to a new ‘growth curve’ early enough to be a leader? It’s leaderships’ job to identify and track the ever-present ‘signals’ that indicate the fate of their business; signals of potential ‘big things’ are all around the business on the periphery of awareness… leadership must pay special attention to signals that have the potential to be transformative, and that can greatly impact their business…

Leadership must look beyond the usual line-of-vision to other areas of society, industries, geographies… since often big changes germinate outside of their normal boundaries… Conventional wisdom can be described as those sets of beliefs that have become deeply embedded in a business culture, organization… that guides their behavior and decision-making, often semi-consciously. And, in many businesses conventional wisdom becomes a ‘sacred cow’, similar to a strategy; which over time decays and loses relevance, and far too often these sacred cows persist long after they have outlived their usefulness… When the business is being driven to respond to massive shifts; conventional wisdom becomes a serious impediment to sustainability and survival…

In the article Leading Disruptive Business Innovation by Soren Kaplan writes: Perhaps the most defining characteristic of disruptive innovation is the great uncertainty that it creates for leaders, organizations, entire industries… However, while a disruptive innovation can be seen and understood in retrospect, it’s debatable whether it can be transferred into a formal, repeatable process. In today’s turbulent environment, leading disruptive business innovation is more like– best principles than best practices, and it requires a disruptive approach to management itself…

According to Gary Hamel; new problems demand new principles and put bluntly, there’s no way to build tomorrow’s essential organizational capabilities, i.e.; resilience, innovation and employee engagement– atop the scaffolding of 20th century management principles… Leaders must embrace ambiguity, live with uncertainty, confront the critiques of naysayers, inside and outside, of an organizations… According to Jeff Bezos; any time you do something that’s disruptive there will be critics… Navigating disruptive business innovation is a critical leadership challenge, and a strategy that contains specific principles that form the basis by which leaders can harness the associated uncertainty and  ambiguity to reinvent their business, organization, industry, include the following:

  • Listen– Start with Yourself, Not the Market: Contrary to conventional wisdom, disruptive leadership is not about analyzing customer needs, creating specifications to meet each need, and building great products, services to meet them, for example; Steve Jobs at Apple never conducted market research, rather they defined products and user experience that they, themselves, wanted. Asking a market what it wants is fruitless, since consumers don’t know what they are missing until they are given it… Disruptive innovation come from those who ‘innovate for themselves’ because they want to make a difference for others…
  • Explore– Go outside to stretch the inside: Leading through disruption requires an agile mind that appreciates ambiguity. Disruptive innovators know that uncertainty contains as much opportunity as it does risk.  But to make this mindset practical, it’s essential to ‘push’ personal, team, and organizational comfort zones… When leaders remain safely rooted in how things are done today, they miss the kind of insight and market impact needed to protect themselves from, or create, a true disruption… Leaders must push themselves, their teams, and their organizations out of the proverbial corporate comfort zone and into uncharted territory…
  • Act– Take small simple steps, again and again and again: Disruptive business leadership involves putting a flexible ‘stake’ in the ground for a specific opportunity, then taking a series of actions to intentionally challenge assumptions and rapidly change direction as many times as necessary. Leading business disruption requires a mindset of continuous adaptation, where leadership determines which specific small steps will have the greatest impact. While taking this approach can indeed help minimize risk, it requires leaders to approach ‘planning’ in a flexible way that allows for major shifts in goals, metrics, timelines…
  • Persist– Take the surprise out of failure: Leaders who face the fear-of-failure head-on are most prepared to use business set-backs as springboards to success. Leading disruptive business innovation involves taking action in the face of uncertainty; then viewing the results and learning from them, then modify assumptions and behaviors based on these results. Even when the results are ‘negative’, the goal is to persist in using the insights gained from the experience… This mental model feeds optimism, inspires further action, which results in type of ‘optimistic persistence’ required to weather the tough times…
  • Seize– Make the journey part of the (surprise) destination: The path to disruptive business innovation is not predictable or linear, and ‘luck’ can play a significant role in long-term business success. Leaders who capitalize on ‘good luck’, and who are best prepared for ‘bad luck’, achieve far superior results than peers. Most business view uncertainty and, especially ‘surprises’, as things to prevent and avoid: The underlying assumption is that predictability and control are the cornerstones of leadership… Leading disruptive business innovation, however, is fundamentally laden with surprises, which are the essence of uncertainty. Managing ‘surprises’ with purposeful agility – versus– disregarding the insights or messages they may contain is critical for business sustainability…

There are fundamental disruptive business shifts underway driven by major structural shifts in the economy, as well as, business model innovations, dramatic changes in technology… It’s an era where technology and society are evolving faster than business can naturally adapt. These sets the stage for new era of leadership and new generation of business models, which are charging behind a mantra of ‘adapt or die’…

Perhaps the most important takeaway from research is the pure ambition to make business relevant in a digital era… According to Brian Solis; business is faced with a quandary as it invests resources and budgets in existing technology and business strategies– it’s business as usual- versus- shifts of unknowns within markets, customer behavior…

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Leadership for disruptive business innovation requires a new way of thinking. A mindset focused on ‘leapfrogging’, which means approaching the world with intent of changing the game, or the way the game is played: Creating or doing something radically new or different that produces a significant leap forward… These opportunities are not limited only to products and services, but also they include; reinventing business processes, revolutionizing business functions…

Navigating disruptive business change involves finding creative solutions and opportunities within seemingly impossible challenges. When you push beyond the limits of your comfort zones, you increase your creative problem solving, strategic thinking capabilities… According to Soren Kaplan; disruptive business innovation is no longer the occasional exception, it’s the rule… If business leadership is not proactively creating disruption, they will eventually need to respond to it…

However, most organizations are set-up to promote and reward the virtues of predictability and control, which are the exact opposites of what characterizes periods of disruptive business innovation… According to Dee McCrorey; there’s no guarantee that playing it safe will keep you safe and, in fact, it’s highly unlikely…