Disruptive leaders are brave. Their bravery is revealed by their absolute willingness to lean into their own executive development by accepting and even driving the changes occurring both within their organization and outside in the markets and economies they serve.
Many of today’s leading companies began as upstart market disruptors. They include:
- Airbnb. Launched in 2008 by Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, by understanding and leveraging shifts in consumer behavior this global hospitality giant succeeded by overturning conventions in the hospitality business that had been around for a century.
- SpaceX. Headed by Elon Musk, this disruptor of the aerospace industry designs manufactures, and launches reusable rockets and spacecraft, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. The company’s success comes at a time when private companies are entering the space market, an endeavor long associated with and controlled by, national governments.
- Facebook. Led by Mark Zuckerberg, this massive global social media company, founded in 2004, has totally disrupted and transformed how people communicate and share information. Similar digital disruptors include Twitter, Linked In, and Instagram.
- Spotify. Founded by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, this music streaming service has disrupted the economic model of popular music by shifting billions of consumers away from buying music (records, CDs, MP3 downloads) to renting it. With Spotify and other streaming services, you pay a fee to listen to a song. Each time you listen, the owner of the song gets a micropayment.
- Netflix. The brainchild of Reed Hastings, Netflix has disrupted how we view movies and has shaken up the movie production industry. Remember Blockbuster video rentals? Blockbuster was blind to the disruptive force of Netflix, and by failing to respond, it got crushed.
Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Tesla, Spanx, Red Bull, WeWork, 23andMe, SurveyMonkey… the list goes on and on. We live in an era of unprecedented market disruption.
This makes many excellent leaders nervous. CEOs sometimes say, “My business isn’t going to change the world. I’m not Steve Jobs or Sara Blakely.” Or, “We’re a service business,” or, “Our product is ubiquitous. We’re not high-tech.”
The solution is in two parts:
- You’re not competing head-to-head against Apple or Spanx. You’re competing in your market, which you know very well. Your market is very intense and competitive in its own way.
- While most businesses aren’t going to be massive market disruptors, any business can innovate and stay ahead of its competition. For example, in November 2017 Domino’s Pizza rolled out its “Pizza Insurance” program. It simply states that if your takeout pizza gets run over by a car, or drenched in the rain, or dropped on the sidewalk, within two hours of purchase you can bring it back to the same store, uneaten and in its original packaging, and you’ll get a free replacement pizza of the same type.
Is there any product more ubiquitous than pizza? Or any market more intensely competitive? And yet Domino’s stays ahead by making innovations in how its product is marketed and disrupting—in an incremental way—the pizza home delivery industry.
There are functional areas in your business ready for innovation. As an innovation leader, all you have to do is identify them and nurture them.
“Wishful” and “Thinking” Don’t Go Together
Today’s innovation leaders know the first step towards leveraging disruption is to recognize the world as it really is and not as it’d like it to be.
They know that wishful thinking will put them on the road to disaster.
Successful organizations chase truth, not success.
As people, we achieve success only after we’ve been honest and truthful about what’s
required to drive enterprise excellence. As a philosophical starting point, merely chasing “success” is misguided. If we aim only for success, we’ll never get it. Success is the end result of staying focused on the truth.
This applies to how we manage our teams. We need to be honest about what we’re asking them to do and then we need to address the realities of the challenges head-on. Disruption requires that we recognize what’s really happening and respond decisively, without thinking, “We can’t do that!”
There’s nothing wrong with success—in fact, that’s what this entire book is about! But innovation leaders know that to stay ahead, you need to know exactly where you stand in the race.
To maintain innovation leadership, you need to:
- Identify and evaluate the sources of external disruption in your market—the emerging forces that threaten your organization’s viability.
What might threaten your supply chain? What new competitors are rising? Are your customers coming back again and again, or are they defecting to competitors?
- Identify and evaluate the sources of internal disruption that are brewing right now within your organization. Are your employees fully engaged? Is your new product development on track? Are you personally open and receptive to new ideas?
- Make sure you’re getting real information, not suppositions or platitudes. Do you seek critical viewpoints, or subtly discourage them? Do you welcome disruption as a catalyst for improvement, or does it irritate you? Do you promote data that represent stark reality, or data that makes you look good to your stakeholders? For information on innovation consulting and training visit https://mylearnlogic.com/innovation/ for information on innovation speaking visit https://www.nickwebb.com/innovation/