Recently, I was lucky enough to visit Facebook. Its headquarters are built on the former site of technology giant Sun Microsystems, which was sold to Oracle in 2009 for $7.4bn dollars. When you arrive there's a giant poster of the iconic Facebook thumbs up that is actually on the back of the Sun Microsystems logo. Sun was once a $200bn dollar company with some of the most talented minds in business. I asked myself, what killed its growth and what can your company do to avoid the same fate? The answer is to think like a disruptor-in-chief.
Entrepreneurs must now thrive in an operating environment called VUCA. Coined by the U.S military, it means volatility (rapid, large-scale change), uncertainty (unclear about present and future outcomes), complexity (many factors to consider with no single cause or solution), and ambiguity (lack of clarity on what events mean and the impact they have). These forces present tremendous risk but also tremendous opportunity. It took the telephone seventy-five years to reach 100,000,000 users, What's App just three years and the game Pokémon Go less than one week. Even my 2-year old niece has embraced disruption. Her nickname in the family is CTO. That stands for Child Technology Officer. Most families have one and they love change.
There's a paradox for the biggest companies as they spend far too much time looking inward to protect past successes rather then changing to stay ahead of the competition. Blockbuster, Kodak and Yahoo are famous casualties. The fact is you will need to update your business model multiple times in order to thrive in the age of disruption. The bad news is that you're probably not going to learn this at business school.
I recently heard the original disruptor, Sir Richard Branson speak at his annual Virgin Disruptors summit. His "screw it, let's do it" attitude has inspired a generation of people to take more risks, say yes to change and jump into the unknown.
Here are three steps to being your own Disruptor-in-chief.
1. Embrace Constraints.
Phil Hansen's story is a master class in using the power of constraints. In his TED talk, Hansen explains that "Limitations may be the most unlikely of places to harness creativity, but perhaps one of the best ways to get us out of ruts, rethink categories, and challenge accepted norms. And instead of telling each other to seize the day, maybe we can remind ourselves every day to seize the limitation." Constraints can lead to resourcefulness and an improved work ethic, pushing everyone to think more creatively about finding the best solution to a problem.
2. Incentivise Risk and Experimentation.
Adobe's Chief Strategist, Mark Randall got rid of the innovation department and decided to build a company of 11,000 innovators by introducing a program called KickStart. Embrace the belief that innovation isn't a buzzword, a department or a person. It's a set of winning behaviours that the whole company lives by.
3. Fail Wisely.
Failcon is one of the most popular conferences in Silicon Valley. Some of the best thinkers and doers on the planet get to share failures that hurt the most and what they learn from them. This reminds you that if you're not failing sometimes, you're probably not trying hard enough. Never waste a good mistake.
Change The Status Quo
Now more than ever, you must think and act like a disruptor. The recent death of so many iconic companies offers a timely reminder that if you don't change the status quo you might just become it. Start before you are ready and know that the best way to disrupt is to do.