Surviving Digital Disruption: Back to Basics
Internet was the future and the dot-com boom was just around the corner. I had just landed a job as a developer before I even graduated. I was looking forward to learning Java, working on some e-commerce projects, and being a part of the next dot-com success story. Optimism was in the air. Then, on my first day on the job, I was assigned to a batch of COBOL trainees!
Fast forward a few years, when the cable television was really upending over-the-air broadcast channels, I was again excited to be working for a large media company with a robust portfolio of cable channels. I soon found out that I would be working on the rapidly declining broadcast ad sales! Fast forward a few more years: I had just taken up a senior technology leadership position with a cable television company, and the industry had one of its best years in the history—and then the entire landscape changed rapidly with the advent of streaming.
Suffice to say that I have seen the eye of the storm a few times and I want to share what I learned along the way. As is often the case, it comes down to going back to basics.
Stay True to Why You Exist
We often define companies by their product, technology, services, or business model. But at the core, all businesses exist (and were founded) to fulfill some unmet need of the customer. In talking about digital disruption, we often confuse the purpose of why we exist with how we reach the customers. If you are a media company, you exist to tell great stories and entertain the customers—not just to distribute your content digitally. If you are a fast food chain, you exist to provide convenient, tasty, and affordable food quickly—not just to sell meals through a mobile app. If you are a car company, you exist to provide a comfortable way for people to travel—not just to let them experience your car via the new virtual reality app.
Surviving disruption starts with never losing sight of your purpose.
Don’t Copy and Paste
It is important to remain externally focused, see it around the corners, and learn from others. But beware of copying and pasting elements of someone else’s strategy into your own. Businesses that survive or thrive in disruption are like a delicious recipe: it is not about the individual ingredients, but how they all come together. You cannot just lift a few ingredients out of the recipe and expect to get the same outcome.
Surviving disruption requires creating the recipe for your own secret sauce.
Utilize Controlled Demolition
Before consumer behaviors start to change, their expectations do. However, because of the proverbial “protective moat” that businesses take comfort in, we fail to respond fast enough. When we do respond, the instinct to protect what exists is so strong that transformation is the last thing on our mind. But it’s important to move on and go with a controlled demolition of soon to be outdated business models, products, and processes before they become outdated.
Surviving disruption involves intentional disruption.
Create a Diverse Team
There are few aspects to diversity. First, in the digital world, you are likely serving a variety of customers from around the world. A team that reflects the diversity of your customer base is more likely to create better products and experiences for them. Second, traditional structures where teams are largely grouped based on a common skillset fall short of generating the unconventional ideas required to drive innovation. Create teams by intermingling diverse skillsets. Third, it’s very common to fall into consensus-based culture and thinking. Keep things fresh by seeding external talent and moving people freely within your own organization.
Surviving disruption is easier with a diverse team.
Don’t Focus on (Just) Surviving
The world is changing at a rapid pace, and if you focus on survival, you will be playing “catch up” all the time. You can avoid this by creating a culture of constant experimentation—the more often you swing, the more chances you have to hit a home run (or a sixer in cricket!). This involves prioritizing agility and speed over perfection. I believe your best chance to win in the digital era is to play offense as if you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Surviving is about adapting and thriving.