Three in 5 HR leaders believe if the HR function doesn’t modernize, it may become irrelevant, according to a recent KPMG survey. The word “modernize” seems like a safe word. It resonates with HR and management because it infers you can talk about innovation, make incremental changes, and not rock the boat. But what if modernization requires disruption, transformation on the grandest scale, not just innovation? Can HR step up this time, take a big gulp, and help burn the boats? For answers and guidance to these questions, we turned to Charlene Li, one of the finest, creative minds in business today, and author of the new book, The Disruption Mindset.
It was only 2 years ago that I meet Ira S Wolfe. But in this age of disruption, that’s nearly a lifetime of change for our grandparents!
In November 2017 I sat next to Ira Wolfe in the theatre, awaiting the start of our first DisruptHR event. For those of you not familiar with DisruptHR, think of it as TedTalks for HR. But instead of 18 minutes on a red carpet, you get 5 minutes. Think about how that reflects life today. TED gives speakers up to 18 minutes to share a new idea. DisruptHR says to do it in 5!
My message was the negative impact that work-life “balance” has on organizations and the people that work inside them. When I took the stage, I introduced the world to Lifework Integration. A few months later, I presented my second DisruptHR talk. It was then that I started to see conversations, summits, and articles about “disruption” pop all over the place.
I started to wonder how conversations about change evolved so quickly into breaking news about disruption. Was disruption just another corporate buzzword conjured up by consultants or was it something very real?
The topic of change is certainly not new. People have been fussing about change from as early as 500 BC when Heraclitus of Ephesus declared, “the only thing that is constant is change.” More than two and a half millennia later, the highly respected Peter Drucker stated, “Change is inevitable…but in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.” He said that in 1999, twenty years ago! I can only imagine what he’d say today.
What seems different this time is not disruption itself but the convergence of multiple disruptions taking place. Uber would be just another taxi service if it weren’t for technology and other forces such as mobile devices, 4G/5G, geo-location, sensors, and the gig economy. In the world Ira and I along with every employer live, the talent marketplace is a significant disruptor. But it takes a back seat to technology, which in my opinion, is the undisputed king of disruption.
With this stage set about disruption, we were honored that Charlene Li agreed to join us on a recent Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization podcast. Charlene Li certainly knows a thing or two about disruption. Fast Company called Charlene one of the “most creative people in business” Daniel Pink describes her as “one of our finest business minds.” If you are trying to grasp the impact of disruption, Charlene has plenty to share. Charlene’s 5th book, The Disruption Mindset highlights many of the paradigm shifts required to understand a world seemingly more unfamiliar every day.
On the podcast, Charlene differentiates why some organizations transform and others fail. It begins with the understanding that innovation is good but it doesn’t guarantee growth. To grow, you must disrupt. Now you might say that disruption isn’t required. That might be true if your goal is to maintain the status quo. But if growth is in your future plans, this podcast is a must-listen whether you’re a business figuring out how to succeed, or an individual seeking a better life tomorrow. Make some time and listen but if you’re still not convinced, here are a few of my take-aways.
Innovators talk about disruptive ideas.
Disruptors make innovation real.
Every business leader talks about growth. Individuals talk about growth. They look toward innovation as being the secret sauce. While innovation is always essential, growth from innovation is far from a guarantee. In fact, many companies manage innovation so closely that it barely nudges the status quo. Charlene goes as far as to suggest, “innovation is the snooze button of corporate strategy. You can’t settle for innovation.”
Adobe, shares Charlene, made quite the disruption when they decided to cease selling software-in-a-box and move their business entirely to the cloud. Stop! Reread that and make sure you caught the magnitude of that disruption. At the time, Adobe was the dominant provider of the photo-and graphics editing software, Photoshop®. There was no other significant competitor in the market and they had millions of users throughout the world. It takes creativity and innovation to accomplish such success, but management at Adobe was starting to struggle with meeting growth expectations. As their shareholders and clients would come to understand, incremental innovation does not lead to growth. But disruptive transformative does.
For Adobe, they looked ahead at started to ask, “who is our future customer?” This is the single question that every business should be asking. It will determine if you will be spending your days and resources keeping your legacy business on life support … or growing a thriving business. Adobe saw their future customers moving to the cloud and Software as a Service (SAAS) was their future. They recognized this strategy would alienate their most loyal customers. And they were right. Immediately, 50,000 customers signed a petition condemning Adobe’s decision. As a publicly-traded company, they recognized their stock price would tank. But with a clear vision and commitment, they “burned the boats,” stopped selling software in a box, and today enjoy the benefits — 10 X growth and an envious stock price! Charlene describes the Adobe story in depth during our podcast conversation and in her book.
Disruptive transformation obviously isn’t as simple as coming up with a new idea, taking the big gulp, and never looking back. It is hard, slow, and messy. It most often significantly alters relationships with customers, employees, and vendors. But it’s necessary to grow and Charlene has laid out a blueprint that can be applied to any business.
Charlene’s message is simple: Managing disruption isn’t about managing innovation or change. It is about managing mindset.
You have a choice. Become your own disruptor or the world will do it for you. For me and Ira, we are all about Charlene’s message. My advice is to check out this podcast then start getting out of your comfort zone, one step at a time. For business, start imagining your future customer. On a more personal level, introduce yourself to a coworker you never met before. Try shutting your phone off for 10 hours one weekend. These smaller, discomforting experiences will build up your confidence for a world of unknown unknowns and find comfort in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.