Over the past few weeks, our day-to-day behaviors have been drastically disrupted: from our shopping to our work, from our banking to our commerce, from our childcare to our social lives, and from our hygiene to our exercise habits. Our current market climate and personal lives are saturated with change and uncertainty. No industry is untouched from the outbreak of COVID-19, and no enterprise leader can turn to the past for answers in navigating these seismic, unpredictable shifts in business and consumer behavior. For enterprises to make it through this disruption, they must make profound, systemic changes to the capability and velocity of how their organizations lead and learn. Leadership must collectively shift their mindsets to create an environment for all employees to set down any traditional, bureaucratic processes that prevent responsible action and the discovery and solving of new customers’ problems and needs. The organizational systems of the past must radically evolve into a real-time learning and growth machine.
We have entered The Great Reset — a period of radical change in acute customer problems and needs that spans all markets and all nations. In this turbulent time, safe, biased leaders who fail to understand, or worse, impede the permissions in developing new solutions to their customers’ often desperate needs, will not endure the sudden shifts in the world. Instead, this new world of rolling disruption demands leaders who will guide their companies through these equally radical resets that result in a renewed resilience, recovery, and a return to growth.
Specifically, the leaders and enterprises who successfully navigate this test of humanity will be those who enact and reward adaptability and speed — the foundational genetics of enterprise resilience — while the market will punish those who lead with hubris and bias. Companies that can rethink their traditional offerings and pivot to empathetic solutions that aid the various crises at hand will be valued and applauded. Look at LVMH, who has used its perfume manufacturing facilities to produce hand sanitizer and distributed its products throughout France for free. Sweetgreen has leveraged its outpost operations to deliver free meals to healthcare workers. Zoom rose to the occasion by donating its video conferencing platform to all K-12 schools. While these decisions were ethically sound, they also revealed corporations that are tuned into the needs of the market and able to reset accordingly.
The Great Reset requires leadership to adopt the mindsets and systems of growth and adaptability, both in the urgency of re-validating their understanding of their core customers today, and capturing the newly emerging market customer problems and needs born from these disruptions. Resiliency requires stability, recovery, and growth in defining the path forward for all stakeholders: employees, customers, communities, and investors. For the cautious C-suite, now may not seem like the time to become a disruptor. Taking a significant risk that doesn’t pay off could mean the end of a hundred-year market monopoly, the layoff of tens of thousands of employees, and a legacy associated only with the disruption itself. If your company leadership and culture identifies with this mentality, it isn’t alone. Just ask Sears, who could have forever transformed retail with machine learning…but didn’t. Or look at Hostess, who saw the growing health food trends and could have taken a bite, but chose not to. Toys “R” Us could have played in the e-commerce space, but it sat on the sidelines.
Then there are the disruptors. It’s easy to talk about Airbnb or Uber, both of whom created markets out of thin air. But what about the already-giants who were on the brink of failure and came back from the edge? There’s Apple, who was ready to declare bankruptcy before it decided to take a risk and become the disruptor of the desktop computer (and MP3 player. And cell phones. And TV.). Or Marvel, who blatantly defied the century-long reign of the white superhero with box office legend Black Panther. Any company can become a disruptor at any time. However, it’s the company that seizes the opportunity, while understanding the crisis the world is facing, to intrinsically change itself all the way down to the core, that develops the resilience and scrappiness to outlast any market, recession, or health crisis. With the severity of the pandemic growing every day, companies that can get through this period will be the ones that trudge through uncertainty with a readiness for change and an impulse and urge to make the world better for their customers.
If you think that transformation efforts sound nice in theory but are dangerous when markets are already as testy as they are, we candidly disagree. We — along with recession scholars, innovation experts, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and market thought leaders — believe that not only is geopolitical chaos and the resulting financial plunge a possible opportunity for real business transformation, but it can also be a catalyst for meaningful corporate change. And there’s historical evidence to back it up.
In 2009, in the depths of The Great Recession, the panic was high, but rather than stop dead in its tracks, the private markets went on offense, and startup activity surged. In that year alone, well over half a million startups were born, including Square and Uber. The year prior saw AirBnB, Pinterest, and Twilio emerge. Similarly, in the wake of The Panic of 1873, patents were filed at record rates, and in the years that immediately followed, the world was rewarded with the lightbulb, telephones, and subway systems.
While it might seem like the past few weeks of black swan events is reason enough to fear the future, we also can view The Great Reset as a once-in-a-century opportunity to cause severe, lasting shifts that outlive even the roughest of markets, the most heated of party politics, and the deadliest of health crises. These circumstances are new and grueling, but they give rise to solutions for crucial and challenging problems. They demand a complete reexamination of a leadership mindset, the systems that lead the organization to the future, and the mission and values of the company.
But how? The first step is a commitment to lead with a disruptor mindset. There are certain non-negotiable traits of a disruptor mindset, and if you and your leadership team do not possess them, the opportunity for transformation will be lost.
Here’s your leadership team and organizational checklist:
- A disruptor seeks new commercial truths and sets down expired truths. The disruptive leader drives and demands the re-discovery of the commercial truths about the market they are in today and the solutions to the rapidly changing problems and needs of its market and customer. They know that any decision — however small — must be made anchored on market truths, and they retire all data that speaks to old truths. The person who’s being disrupted clings to old narratives, old control and normalcy biases, team members, data, and strategies — the disruptor values unlearning as much as new learning.
- A disruptor accepts and understands that customer behaviors and needs change rapidly. Outside forces create the future, the disruptor embraces them. Twenty years ago, healthy fats were still the enemy. Ten years ago, getting into cars with strangers was scary. Two months ago, most of us weren’t stockpiling toilet paper. Someone who’s being disrupted fears these changes. A disruptor is driven to learn about them and make products and services to solve these new customer needs.
- A disruptor develops a large growth portfolio in clearly defined opportunity areas that have a high level of productive failure (around 70–80% across all funding stages). A disruptor does so because they know that it takes an average of twenty bets to capture an unbounded return, and because a well-invested portfolio is the best way to get real-time learnings from a rapidly changing market. By contrast, someone who’s being disrupted fears making a lot of small, non-consensus investments and prefers to make several larger, “safer” bets. These become the five big bets a year that turn into zombie outcomes — that is, programs that never die, consuming mindshare and resources at the expense of new growth opportunities, investments, and learning opportunities.
- A disruptor commits to growth systems and talent that enable adaptability and speed. They know that the currency of disruption is learning velocity, and that, as Eric Ries says, “whoever learns the fastest wins.” Someone who’s being disrupted doubles down on corporate processes and bureaucracy because it is what they know, and it feels safer. But now, in continually shifting markets, adaptability and speed define who thrives.
- A disruptor embraces a growth mindset. Transformation is an expedition, and it requires the active, energized participation of everyone in the organization. Meanwhile, the individual who’s being disrupted grips tightly to the beliefs, evidence, and metrics of the past, expecting the mindsets in which they and their predecessors were trained on to get them through the company’s next decade. Disruptor leaders shift focus from a Total Addressable Markets (TAM) view of the world, where past budgets and behaviors existed pre-disruption, to a Total Addressable (Customer) Problem view of the world, where new needs, behaviors and budget exists post-disruption. Disruptive leadership no longer makes products “for” customers; they solve the problem “with” the customer. They are outside in (Discovery), not inside out (R&D). Customer behaviors don’t lie (the ‘do vs. say’ test) they lead us to validated solutions and into new growth.
Once your entire leadership team elects to adopt this disruptor mindset, then and only then can you begin the implementation of a deep, meaningful, lasting system of change at your organization. As Bain noted in a recent COVID-19 CEO response game plan, the best and only option for a corporation in unpredictable times is to “go on offense.” If you’ve lacked permission and have been withholding your team and most potent ideas for too long, now is your time to validate it. If someone from middle management comes forward with a new idea, now is the time to listen. If someone on your leadership team has been pushing for a massive mindset overhaul for years, today is the day to adopt it. Get aggressive. Get gritty. Get bold. Get tenacious. Get growth resilience.
We are in a crisis. If you’re at the command of your company, how you act in the days and weeks to come will determine the arc of your company’s ability to recover and re-discovery of the return to growth. The world will watch as great leaders will lead their companies charge into the unknowable, with a new mandate to become disruptor leaders. The totality of this moment and the resulting outcomes will be a result of how you think — your mindset — and how the organizational systems respond will lead you forward to a new future, or back to a disrupted past. We believe The Great Reset will require a disruptor mindset that radiates through to every leader, granting the permission — the mandate — to drive always-on, empathetic, new customer-centric solutions that will lead to recovery and growth.
Co-Founder + CEO, Bionic