In speaking to a few clients and non-clients recently about the impact of disruptive technologies, one thing has become clear – business models being disrupted by shifts in technology is the new normal. Whether you are part of manufacturing multi-national, a government agency, or a SMB in a developing country, your business model is going to be impacted by technology disruptions in ways you have not considered. To be prepared you need to have an idea about where the future might be going and set of strategies to implement when that set of futures happens. The problem is that most companies don’t do this type of thinking.
Let me give you an example – laptop computers. Laptops may not seem that disruptive today. You walk into any Starbucks and there will be a number of people typing away in their office away from the office. You see people with them everywhere – airports, trains, buses, restaurants, on beaches, even church – they are a common fixture almost everywhere. But about twenty-five years ago, portable computers (I can’t in good conscience call an Osborne 1 or an IBM 5155 a laptop) were disruptive. Businesses were still getting used to computers, now you could take them with you? Even 10 or so years ago when I was working in the Federal government they were still disruptive. My request for a laptop computer required special permission just to get the machine. It required a higher level of special permission to take it out of the building, not to mention working from home on it. Laptop computers were disruptive no so much because of the technology but because of the possibilities they opened up in changing the nature of work, work flows, and business processes.
The same can be said today for social media. Yes the technology is cool, but has disrupted how we deal with customers and potential customers. But that is not the end of the disruption. Have you thought about how it is going to change how employees speak with each other? Have you calculated in how that is going to shift your workflow? Oh, by the way, let’s toss mobile technologies in there so we have shifting business processes and workflow perpetuated by people from the blackberry or iPhone.
So how do you prepare to deal with disruption? By doing the preliminary work on where disruption might be originating from and what it could potentially look like. There are three guidelines I give clients for at least identifying where disruption might be coming from.
- Scan the environment. Someone or some team should always be scanning the horizon to identify where disruptions might come from. Look for how the context is changing in the external environment and how that might affect your organization. This can be tied either to the market of the company or the business processes of the company, or even the customer.
- Identify drivers and uncertainties of disruption. What is causing the potential disruption? Is it a technology shift like mobile devices, a social shift like environmentalism, a political shift such as a change in government in a country that is an integral part of your supply chain, so some other shift? Look for slight shifts or changes to recognize that there maybe a change on the horizon. Once a potential disruption is identified, recognize what is known and unknown about the disruption.
- Vision what they may mean for your organization. Every organization has its “official future” but what happens if that future is wrong and being wrong comes from a major technology disruption. The only way to really play this out is to vision what might happen. Many of these visions will be wrong and that is okay. The idea is not to get the correct vision of the future but to understand what affects the future and how you might respond to those disruptions.
Preparing for disruption is not simple or easy, and that is why so few companies do it outside of their core market or technology. And admittedly there is a lot more to understanding and preparing for disruption, but this is a starting point. Take the time to think through what changes mean for your company.