Preparing for disruption
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. – Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson was arguably one of the greatest fighters in the sport of boxing. Despite his shorter and stockier frame, he soared through the heavyweight ranks for 20 years. No one before him had the ability to slip, block, counter and display such incredible power. When Mike’s punch landed it was over for whoever was in front of him.
During the heyday of his one-punch knockouts you couldn’t show up late for a fight in true Hollywood fashion. Arrive halfway into the first round or stroll in during the second? Mike was already done. The old style of slow, long-haul 12-round heavyweight fights was done. Mike made it obsolete.
That is the very nature of disruption. It makes everything preceding it obsolete.
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
No truer words.
The reality is every individual, every organisation, every business, large or small, start-up or corporation is going to get punched in the face at least one time or another. Forgive the violent analogy for a moment and just consider how we typically work. We strategise and plan, down to the last minute detail. We’re very good at this. This next launch is going to be seamless. Our strategy for a new month, quarter, year of sales and 100 new clients is going to be simple to implement. Market share is ours in 2019! It all sounds great.
Training for boxing is pretty similar.
Several years ago I used to box and distinctly remember my first few months of training. First my trainer, one of South Africa’s leading MMA [mixed martial arts] fighters, got our diets right; I lost weight and picked up lean muscle. Then we worked on my cardio, from flipping tyres across yards to running through suburbs.
A few weeks later we got to actually start boxing, beginning with the basic footwork and boxing movements. Where and how to hit the bag. Slipping and dodging, countering. Starting to feel more and more natural. Then we learnt how to do that in three-minute rounds … and became confident over time. Then we hit the bag or did glove work for three-minute rounds … and got even more confident. I’m looking and feeling like a boxer hey! This is nothing. Floyd who? Light work! Then it was time to get in the ring for our first sparring sessions. Get the hands wrapped, gloves fitted, put on the headgear, this is it!
Then there’s something you can’t train for. Something you can’t explain until it happens. Getting punched in the face … then the ribs, the stomach, the head … for those very same three minutes. Someone chasing you around a very small square for three whole minutes.
All that training goes out the window! You hear the faint yell of your trainer in the background of your mind, “move, dodge, block, remember your footwork!” Unfortunately it’s too late and you’re just in survival mode.
It is exactly the same in business.
Boxers, entrepreneurs and corporates spend a tremendous amount of time planning, practising and refining each of their moves, their combinations, their offerings. They get lean, trim and focused. The business plan they’ve been working on for so long seems tight. The market is mature apparently, our marketing plan is textbook, the financial models have been reviewed for the umpteenth time!
So you think you can get in the ring. You think you are ready.
One simple combination and a landed punch to the jaw, we forget everything we planned. It means nothing.
Disruption comes for your chin. For your most vulnerable spot, regardless of whether you are a rugged prize fighter of a business or just getting in the sparring gym. For survival we have to learn to take a punch, rebound and get up quickly! The problem is, it is happening quicker and more often in today’s world. A few years ago a trendy term was VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In shorter terms? It’s wild out there!
We can’t avoid it. In boxing, it’s inevitable that you are going to get punched. Along the course of every fight or career, at least one punch is going to land and shake you. You can’t run away from it; you just have to prepare.
When I travel around the world doing talks, consulting to businesses, both large and small, I shudder when I hear: Oh, we’re not worried about disruption. Our business model has been strong for 10, 20, 100 years. We’re old-school in our approach. Digital technologies aren’t a threat. What we’ve always done is ...
Mike Tyson is coming for you. Let’s get ready.
Innovation, invention, disruption. What’s the difference?
People often confuse innovation, invention and disruption and they are often used synonymously. It’s not exactly black and white, but I believe there are real, but simple, distinctions between the three concepts. As entrepreneur, and Singularity University vice-president, David Roberts explained: Innovation is about making the same things better. It is the very process by which we change the world. As we learnt before, change makes things easier, better, different. Steve Jobs was the king of this. Not the first to create a portable music player, online music sharing platform or smartphone, he was, however, arguably the best at improving those existing products. Shifting the mind-set to how we viewed experiences with technology, he simply improved and redefined the entire ecosystem.
Invention is setting out to create new things. Invention is the creation of a product for the first time. It’s not so common any more because we spend more time refining one another’s ideas than we do creating brand new concepts. The industries of energy and microbiology are where I see invention still happening the most, but more on that later.
Disruption is the real killer, it’s about making the old things completely obsolete. Disruption completely changes how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day. Its goal is not just to smash the status quo but to replace it. So Iron Mike doesn’t just want to knock you out, he wants you not to rise again. To survive, you have to face the disruption with equal or greater force in changing your audience, business model, marketing approach, etc.
Barriers to disruption
Disruption is also not simple. Just because it’s coming for everyone doesn’t mean the disruptors have it easy. There is still a process to go through to shift a way of doing things, old or new, into obsolete mode. Netflix didn’t overtake Blockbuster in a matter of weeks or months. It took years to become the brand and powerhouse it is today. In order to disrupt there is a process and list of barriers one must go through first. Harvard Business Review has developed the following barriers to disruption that any company must get to check obsolescent status. Whether you are aiming to disrupt yourself, your competition or your industry you’ll also need this list as a measure of how simple or easy it is going to be to change or be the one who is forced to be changed.
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