Embracing the Art of Disruption Today

Business as we know it is changing. Predominantly because the world around us is changing at such a rapid pace that it can feel hard to keep up. People call it “the age of disruption” and it’s no wonder why; the constant influx of new innovations is continuously transforming how we work, think and live. Today more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that technology is a main driver for disruption and that this disruption is accelerated by the expansion of current technologies.

Nowadays, humans are not just spoiled for choice but bombarded with decisions. If you think about it, we’re probably exposed to more stimuli in a day than some generations were exposed to in their lifetimes. As children, we’re taught that disruption is something to shy away from. But today it is necessary to not only understand disruption but embrace it in order to keep up with the ever-advancing times and break new grounds.

We’ve seen Uber disrupt the taxi industry. We’ve witnessed the hotel industry be disrupted by Airbnb and the music industry be disrupted by Apple and Spotify. Whether or not you think these disruptions are beneficial or detrimental to society, we cannot ignore the fact that the business landscape isn’t anything like it was a few years ago; and if we want our strategies and projects to stay relevant, they need to change too.

Disruption itself is nothing new. After all, that’s the nature of capitalism. As Mark Barden of Eatbigfish wrote for AdAge, “Not so long ago, before ‘disruption,’’ ‘best practice’ was the religion. Everyone copied the procedures and practices that were deemed to be the most effective, including in marketing. There’s a logic to this, of course: this is how conventions are created. Look at car advertising, supermarket design, domestic beer marketing, and most hotel experiences today. All are expressions of best practices, which inevitably must stop working in time because they fail to make your brand distinctive.”

So, the question is, how can you and your business thrive in the age of disruption?

1) Don’t just disrupt, challenge.

In order to stand out, brands need to be disruptive but they also need to be “challengers.” Barden explains that while disruptors often begin with an insight about a technical capability or engineering breakthrough, challengers use ideology to determine where they focus their disruption.

2) Exercise design thinking.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, defines design thinking as “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” This process involves depending on consumers for input and insights. It’s about approaching design from a place of empathy and inclusion and, most importantly, realising that innovation is less about the technology and more about strong design because that is what differentiates businesses.

3) Manage your attention.

According to Jeremy Hunter, Founding Director of the Executive Mind Leadership Institute, mindfulness can be defined as a way of “cultivating a higher quality of attention.” Surviving the age of disruption, and learning how to thrive in it, doesn’t necessarily mean doing more at once. Hunter says that multitasking is a fantastic strategy if you want to be a shallow thinker and research supports his claim; children who multitask tend to learn less. Focussing on receptivity, curiosity, and openness can help you to become more present and by extension, more productive.

4) Constantly re-invent yourself.

Brands that are too afraid of change will eventually die out. Just look at Hummer for instance. Organisations need to ask “will what I am selling still be relevant in five years from now?” Holding onto strategies that no longer work means that you’ve lost touch with customers and therefore won’t be able to evolve with them. Staying at the forefront of competitive landscapes depends on your ability to stay relevant, and relevance requires relentless innovation. As Best-selling author Erica Ariel Fox wrote on The Future of Leadership, “In the Age of Disruption, the new game requires leaders to disrupt their inner order. As the world reinvents itself, the only way to win is to reinvent yourself, too.”

South African Trend Specialist, Author, Speaker and Business Innovation Strategist, John Sanei, writes on his website, “An estimated 7 billion people are going to be online and connected to free, fast Wi-Fi within the next five to ten years. In the process, the way the world does business – even the very nature of business – is undergoing the most dramatic and fundamental changes we’ve seen in a century or more.” He goes onto explain that the word “change” isn’t big enough to explain what the world is going through. Instead, he describes it as “transformation.”

According to Sanei, “Tough economic climates are for businesses that have not looked at the future and have not prepared themselves. If you are focused on the needs of consumers and employees, you are able to create a business ecosystem that is agile, continuously innovating, and moving forward.”

Here are three examples of local businesses who are using disruptive technology to pave the way forward:

execMobile’s PocketWifi
Recognising the steep costs of data in South Africa, this company enables travellers to connect to the internet from any mobile device at the fraction of the cost of mobile operators’ roaming rates.

This forward-thinking company’s digital publishing solutions are transforming the way students learn by eradicating the need for textbooks which many South African children do not have access to. Snapplify’s innovative technology even makes it possible to download eBooks without an internet connection.

Bright Black
A solar energy solutions company, Bright Black aims to disrupt the local coal energy sector which supplies more than 50% of the country’s energy. One of Bright Black’s sites, KPMG in Parktown, generates 1,000,000kwh per annum which in turn saves 1,320 trees or 621,000kg of coal.