When you go out to a restaurant, one of the first things they give you is a glass of ice water. An everyday exchange that we rarely notice, let alone think about. But within those indistinguishable ice cubes lies a deep story of innovation and some lessons in disruption from which we can all benefit.

When the first brewery emerged in 1837, the concept of a cold beverage was not commonplace. Then in the 1850s, ice started to become a prized commodity and ice harvesting thrived -- 10 million tons of ice were used annually.

Ice harvesting had limitations, however, like weather, location, and seasonality. Natural ice harvesting soon gave way to the man-made ice factory. And in 1920, ice ranked ninth in investment among American enterprises.

As successful as the ice factory was, it was not immune to disruption. In 1927, along came the home refrigerator bringing the ice factory to its knees. The iceman cometh no more.

What Ice Can Teach Us About Business and Disruption

In the span of about 77 years, the ice industry went through three revolutions. Natural ice gave way to ice factories, which were ultimately replaced by refrigerators. The key fact to note is that the leader in each period never made it to the next shift.

No matter how successful your company is today, there is no such thing as "too big to fail." The unpredictability of the future makes it impossible to know what investment will prevail. The only solution for companies is to "lean in" to that change. To focus on disrupting yourself before something else does.

But companies cannot transform unless the executives who run them actively drive the agenda. Here are a few ways business leaders can personally embrace change, and then apply it to their organizations.

1. Let others teach you.

Experience can sometimes be a bad thing. Your years in the industry could mean you are playing a new game with the old playbook.

At Cisco, we used reverse mentoring as a way to help senior executives learn from millennial employees on how to use social media and other communication tools. In addition to strengthening their understanding, it also set an important precedent -- breaking down the barrier between executives and employees. It helped us establish a culture of constant growth, healthy risk-taking, creative ideation, and most significantly, it kept executives abreast of what was available.

2. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Confucius said: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."
Voltaire said: "The best is the enemy of the good."
Shakespeare said: "Striving to better, oft we mar what's well."

The common theme across these philosophical phrases is that you can't wait for perfect.

I grew up at a time in business when perfection was the mandate. There were numerous instances where products were delayed for non-critical business reasons. That was then and this is now. Time to market and speed are now much more crucial than perfection. Think of all the products Google launched that were "Beta" -- there's even a website dedicated to their A.I. experiments that anyone can test out.

The new expectation: get your products to market ASAP and work with your customers to improve them continuously.

3. Never, ever waste a crisis situation.

Organizational change is one of the hardest things to do as a leader. The larger the organization, the harder it becomes. For that reason, when things go wrong, it's a golden opportunity to leverage change. You can execute a dramatic change during a crisis that would be impossible in a non-crisis situation.

Ask yourself: if we experience a crisis today, besides resolving the crisis, what changes would I like to make? Be nimble and improve your capacity, and willingness, to make big systemic changes after a crisis.

So if the you-know-what hits the fan, rejoice. Recognize that you have an opportunity to figure out how to improve your organization.

4. Create a burning platform to rally around.

If you're trying to transform your company, the biggest challenge you'll face is influencing everyone else to change with you. You have to find a way to drive everyone around you to think differently, and to preemptively fix things that are not yet broken.

Do this by creating a burning platform for your company. Set your eyes on a competitor that your organization wants to displace. Or an emerging company that you want to stay ahead of. Make up a competitor if you have to. The key is to establish a compelling reason for your company to disrupt itself, before disruption knocks on the door.

Final thoughts...

Everything changes. Truth is, it always has -- just ask that poor guy with his frozen pond and rusting ice saw. No one's saying that handling disruption is easy. But by integrating flexibility, constant learning, and fear-free creativity into your own and your company's DNA, you'll be ready to handle change not as a one-off existential crisis, but as business-as-usual. The key thing to remember, as Jack Welch would say, is to "change before you have to."