Disrupt or Be Disrupted

Creative innovation. It's a phrase that has been used over the past decade. It has evolved to creative disruption and even creative destruction. And like other catch phrases or buzzwords, they get over-used. Over-used and under-utilized. They lose meaning. They become irrelevant.

But we're not done with creative disruption yet. Our world -- let alone corporate America -- still desperately needs to be creatively disrupted.

You see, I think some of us have forgotten what creative disruption really is. What it really means. What is really looks like.

Because here is the truth as I see it. Companies are disappearing right in front of our eyes because of a lack of leaders who are willing to respond to change. Take Blockbuster or Kodak as examples. Both at one time were leaders in their perspective industries and both experienced a dramatic decline. Why? Because of a lack of willingness to recognize that the world -- and their customers -- had changed.

So I am wondering, as you read this right now, when was the last time you pulled over to examine your ability to meet the needs of the people that you serve? If you haven't maybe you should because here is the reality...

You can either disrupt or be disrupted.

You can either do it, or it is going to be done to you.

It's really as simple as that.

In his book, Do NOT Invent Buggy Whips: Create, Reinvent, Position, Disrupt, Kenneth Thurber, defines creative disruption in a simple yet effective way:

In Creative Disruption, the goal is to expose flaws in the current business model, highlight areas where improvement/changes are needed, and to help inspire adaptation of the business model for future growth.

Creative disruption is about identifying patterns that we need to proactively break to add more value or to create an opportunity. And to disrupt effectively, we must pay attention to the tea leaves. Let the future lead us - not the past. We have to be in-tune with the audience we serve, the customers we serve, the people we serve.

Back to the Kodak example -- a company that failed to break a pattern. A pattern of complacency. They took their eyes off of the consumer and, as a result, lost their leadership position in the marketplace. All this despite being one of the first companies to develop a digital platform and potentially leading the digital revolution.

Kodak could have taken advice from the October 2015 Harvard Business Review article, "The Future & How to Survive It," by Richard Dobbs, Tim Koller, Sree Ramaswamy:

Companies need to be willing to disrupt themselves before others do it to them. That requires overcoming the fear that a new product or channel will cannibalize an existing business. Many companies struggle with legacy assets and productivity gaps in their own operations (some firms have a 40% gap between their most and least productive sites), and companies will need to get much better at overcoming strategic inertia. A McKinsey study of capital expenditure allocations from 1990 to 2005 across business units in more than 1,600 firms found that each year's capital allocation correlated closely--more than 90%--with the previous year's. (Our experience is that the correlation between year-to-year decisions for other resources, such as talent, is even higher.) However, firms that were able to reallocate capital in response to changing conditions had substantially higher growth rates and returns to shareholders.

In order for each of us as leaders to remain relevant (in all aspects of our lives), we must apply creative disruption to ourselves -- in other words, we must disrupt ourselves. Be willing to expose our flaws, be honest about improvements needed and adapt ourselves for future growth.

Even more, we must analyze and pinpoint our disruptive strengths as described in the July/August 2012 Harvard Business Review article by Whitney Johnson entitled "Disrupt Yourself:"

As you look to disrupt yourself, don't think just about what you do well--think about what you do well that most others can't. Those are your disruptive strengths...Zigzagging career paths may be common now, but the people who zigzag best don't do it randomly.

Johnson goes on by stating:

According to Clayton M. Christensen's (the father of disruptive innovation) research on disruptive innovation, when a company pursues growth in a new market rather than an established one, the odds of success are six times higher and the revenue potential 20 times greater. It's impossible to quantify the effects of personal career disruption in the same way, but anecdotal evidence suggests it can yield similar results -- dramatically improving your chances of finding financial, social, and emotional success.

The status quo has a powerful undertow, no doubt. Current stakeholders in your life and career will probably encourage you to avoid disruption. For many of us, though, holding steady really means slipping--as we ignore the threat of competition from younger, more agile innovators, bypass opportunities for greater reward, and sacrifice personal growth.

We give a lot of airtime to building, buying, and investing in disruptive companies. They are vital engines of economic growth. But the most overlooked economic engine is you. If you really want to move the world forward, you need to innovate on the inside -- and disrupt yourself.

So how do you disrupt yourself? It may feel uncomfortable, I know, but you must:

1. Develop the discipline of studying your life, your organization and your industry.

2. Closely examine the patterns and models that are either enhancing your future success or potential failure.

3. Find the courage to break the patterns that no longer work.

4. Be willing to test and fail in order to learn.

5. Determine a disruption outcome (i.e. what are you doing and why you doing it?).

6. Integrate disruption goals as part of the strategic planning process (personally and/or professionally).

One final important note: Women (as well as men) must use their power to disrupt cultures, processes and business models. We must step up and lead the changes that will create an even playing field. And we must not limit this to the business world.

This is the mark of leaders who will win in the 21st century. Disrupt or be disrupted. Lead or be led. Win or lose.