The disruption no one is talking about

Arpy Dragffy
PH1.ca
Published in
6 min readApr 7, 2017

--

Businesses today are scared.

They’re worried that they’ll become the next company that once had huge market share and now has headlines in the business section for all the wrong reasons. This is what they tell us each time we consult them on how to innovate their customer engagement via new products or marketing strategies. They all want to embrace the approach that has led startups to skyrocket growth and avoid being the next casualty of rapidly-evolving markets. This is important to them and it should be important to you.

Each week we hear about another one of these companies — another PayLess Shoes, Sears, Twitter, Nokia, AOL, or Kodak — that went from diamond to rubble. And each week companies like Amazon, Facebook, UBER expand one step closer to your market and one step closer to impacting your job.

Sure, you can blame disruption and start planning for a future where most of our jobs are replaced by AI, driverless vehicles, or robots. Instead I’d rather look at this as the loud thunder of a new reality hitting boardrooms around the world: one mistake can sink your company and one thousand mistakes can turn it into a billion-dollar company.

A disruption to how we think, learn, compete

The greatest thing that the internet has brought to all of us is the easy access to the lessons from people who have tried, failed, and succeeded at every subject and task humanly imagined. If anything breaks I can quite literally learn how to fix it nearly instantly. That includes a complex calculus formula, a piece of website code, or a strategy to gain my first one hundred customers.

That is one of the single most powerful disruptions that has happened. Yet, few people talk about its impact.

What this means for you and your business is that you’re now better equipped to resolve more problems yourself and can easily find experts to take care of it the rest of the time. Don’t know Google AdWords? No problem, Google it. Don’t know what the best technology stack is to use for your eCommerce platform? Google it and find people who have had the exact same question.

In the 1990’s renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil projected an event called The Singularity where we’d all merge with technology to become a super intelligence. Critics at the time mocked him for counting on us to turn into cyborgs or to have our minds uploaded into something like The Matrix.

Sci-fi or not, our ability to search for, access, and iteratively improve on someone else’s work is the first major expansion of human computing power and intelligence. Unfortunately the education system, government, and business on a whole are not evolving fast enough to address this. While all of us hear about disruption being defined by the three-person team working out of their garage founding a game-changing technology, the true disruption that will transform how we live, work, earn money will be this newfound ability to constantly learn, improve, compete, transform.

The challenge for businesses will be how to embrace a new reality where skills, knowledge, data are opportunities instead of roadblocks.

A culture of mistakes = a culture of success

Deloitte is a global consulting firm that helps organizations with challenges just like these. Yet, their teams are also recognizing the the true roadblock to an organization’s ability to innovation.

Speaking at the 2017 BCAMA Vision Conference in Vancouver, Deloitte’s Shawn Kanungo stated it very simply: “Organizations are designed to operate well. Organizations are not designed to evolve.”

Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis — also speaking at the event — sees a growing divide between what executives are building companies to be and what customers need them to be. He sees the demands of customers evolving extremely fast while the mindset of corporations evolving much slower.

Innovation consultants like them are finding this repeatedly: successful companies struggling to innovate fast enough. This creates discontent for their customers and even greater opportunities for competition that are embracing a culture of innovation.

While you’d expect this problem to be isolated to companies in traditional industries like retail, resource extraction, or government, the failures of previously innovative companies — like Microsoft and most of the advertising agency world — are well documented. For those that can’t evolve fast enough it’s become a game of eating up more innovative companies (Microsoft to LinkedIn; Facebook to Oculus Rift; Deloitte to Fjord).

For the rest of the world where 8-digit exits and acquisitions aren’t on the horizon you’re probably asking “well how the hell am I going to survive then?” The reality is quite simple: you need to evolve faster and learn how to deal with being wrong, a lot.

The thing is we’re all pretty lucky actually. Unlike most of our parents who grew up with unrealistic expectations and the notion that failure is weakness dragging them down Gen X and Millennials grew up with a whole other standard. We’re the generation who died hundreds of times playing Super Mario before vanquishing the game. Reality TV and 24 hour news taught us that most of us far from perfect and that almost all politicians are blatant liars. And we’re the generation that went from photos being expensive to develop and print to now being completely comfortable showcasing terrible photos of ourselves on Snapchat because they don’t represent what I know about myself.

Some companies recognize this, others haven’t

While we were all so distracted by the latest headline of a success story we usually miss the backstory of Canada’s tech darling, team messaging platform Slack, only finding its groove after they absolutely failed at their first venture. We probably also missed the countless failures Google and Facebook have had that enabled them go from yet-another-product to the most powerful technology companies in the world.

They, along with every other company that has realized that there is no single way to succeed in the future are championing a culture of success thanks to a culture of failure.

As we move closer to an era where many of our tasks will be AI-assisted it is important to recognize that this culture of failure comes from a very simple observation: humans, genetics, computers, plants all evolve as a response to failure. IBM Watson and today’s smartest AI engines reach it through a process called Machine Learning where it learns by doing and practicing. Just like a baby learning to walk these systems will learn to do parts of your jobs exactly the same way you would, except much faster because they an instilled directive to be constantly learning and adapting based on new data.

The true disruption we all should be worried isn’t Amazon, nor those AI systems, it should be the disruption between companies that embrace the wealth of new data and those that don’t. Those answers come in the form of mastering Github, internal experimentation, specialty training, knowledge sharing across industries. And even more simply, by embracing an entire generation’s innate mastery of adaptability and elevating experiences.

Finding the best way to innovate your industry

I believe any business can become an innovator. It doesn’t always need to be about changing the world or your industry, some of the most successful companies have focused extremely successfully solely on innovating a single customer touchpoint.

My partner, Brittany Hobbs, is a researcher with a decade of experience working with big brands, government, and local companies. She’s looked into what is causing major shifts in industries and what many companies have done successfully to become innovative teams and companies.

Next week we’ll look dive into her research and provide an action plan on how to avoid being the next Kodak.

Arpy Dragffy is a Digital Product Strategist and Innovation Consultant in Vancouver, Canada. As President of PH1 Media he leads innovation workshops and designs products and strategies for businesses.

--

--

Arpy Dragffy
PH1.ca

Customer Experience & Service Design | Head of Strategy of http://PH1.ca