Why Most Companies Are Still Blindsided By Disruption

While the concept is more recognisable today, the truth is digital transformation (DX) has been around for quite some time. We’ve come a long way since video killed the radio star and Kodak, but it took a long series of incremental steps to get us to the point where stores aren’t actual buildings anymore and our social lives are contained in small devices in our back pockets.

Yet, for many business leaders, the subtle signs of disruption can often be too difficult to detect. For others, it’s not so much a case of awareness, but rather about knowing what to actually do about disruption.

However, if the last two decades made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, a glimpse into the future will make your head spin. The reason being those past disruptions were largely of a tangible nature; servers went to the cloud, home and office telephones became smart devices, printers went 3D and cars started plugging into wall sockets for fuel.

Today it’s a different story; artificial intelligence is making decisions on behalf of humans, advanced predictive analytics are answering questions before most people can and virtual reality is opening up an entire universe of possibilities in entertainment, education, social and business engagements.

Gartner says that new digital disruptions, “….mostly exist in the virtual world, which makes them difficult to recognise until after the impact is felt. And, virtual technologies are easily changed and easily scaled. This means that they can suddenly appear at full force, seemingly out of nowhere; their incubation period is often invisible.”

This makes anticipating the next wave of upheaval to be thrust upon us even harder to prophesize. Stealth disruption is the new norm and it’s important for companies to know that it can come from anywhere amongst a host of places overlooked in boardroom discussions. Deloitte puts it this way, “The fundamental challenge for CEOs is to figure out when disruption is happening to them, to understand where it’s coming from and to have a strategy in place for more than one future.”

A Lesson in Disruptive Thinking

Perhaps looking to the Mecca of disruptive innovation can help for some inspiration. For all their technological feats, the clever folks at Silicon Valley have another, yet understated, advantage they play quite masterfully: collaborative thinking. To the outsider names like Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, Google, Samsung and Amazon are considered the other’s natural nemesis.

And while it’s had its fair share of geeky skirmishes involving IP and product design, (and more to come, undoubtedly) the collaborations that occur in the Valley are by far more noteworthy than any lawsuits that have originated from it.

Collaboration between and amongst technology giants and startups is an intrinsic part of what makes Silicon Valley the perfect ecosystem for innovative disruption. And it’s been at it for a while.

While few will remember the Apple laser printer (the result of a collaboration between Apple Inc, Adobe Systems and the Canon Corporation in 1984) this groundbreaking small form networkable printer, capable of producing high-quality, full-page graphic printouts in never-before-seen detail, sparked what would become the Desktop Publishing (DTP) revolution.

While Apple mostly gets credit for it, the truth is that without Adobe’s Postscript Printing Language and Canon’s Laser Printing Engine – and an open sharing of ideas and intellectual property – the birth of a new industry could have been delayed for years.

“Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem-solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.” ~ Don Tapscott, Blockchain Research Institute Chairman

And so these collaborations continue well into our digital era; in fact, collaborations between seemingly odd companies are fuelling new disruptions across the world. One such current development is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Partnership, formed between Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, and recently been joined by Apple.

The partnership intends to maximise the benefits of AI to society and businesses, making the collaboration between these seemingly juxtaposed Silicon Valley big players a key example of how maximum benefit can be derived from new digital opportunities.

“We’re happy to see the launch of the group — coordination in the industry is good for everyone. We’re looking forward to non-profits being included as first-class members in the future.” This inclusive approach to the behemoth technology that is AI will undoubtedly accelerate its progress, create new opportunities for revenue, possibly spawn entirely new industries – all while democratising its applications to the greater benefit of ordinary people.

Applying the Valley Mentality to Your Transformation Strategy

In a study on innovation in Silicon Valley, all companies considered a traditional closed innovation approach as non-sufficient for them to be competitive. In fact, global players are increasingly looking to Silicon Valley to help them solve complex challenges to new digital realities. Samsung, Disney, Siemens and car manufacturers Honda Motors and Mercedes-Benz are just a few that are teaming up with Valley giants and startups to help them keep pace with disruption.

Their readiness to break away from existing structures and lines of command to meet disruption head-on should give others pause for thought. But the change of such a nature can be difficult to initiate or manage, especially where cultures are well-entrenched.

WWC’s experience in partnering with both government agencies and private businesses has continuously underscored the importance of companies willingness to “open up” their structures, cultures and relationships with stakeholders to identify opportunities for impactful digital initiatives.

“A crucial lesson we’ve learned over time was that people commonly struggle to let go of the safety in doing things the usual way, yet are surprised when new players in their field upend their business models. Interestingly, however, when looking at every new disruptor on the scene, openness to collaboration and innovation are at the heart of these businesses.” says Mike Perk, WWC Managing Director and Senior DX advisor.

While no business can claim to know the future, it’s clear that doing things the old way won’t prepare them for what’s heading their way. However, a willingness to move from a competitive stance to a collaborative one could just open new avenues for growth, innovation and a stab at disrupting the status quo.

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