How can we manage disruption?

We hear about ‘disruption’ and ‘disruptive marketing’ as if they were real things — things that we could all ‘do’ in business if we just knew how. However, if you were to take a moment and define what ‘disruption’ means to you, what do you come up with?

Disruption in nothing more than the response of an organisation to a change in the market.

This is important — because there are changes occurring all around us, all the time. Some changes have no effect on much, while others shift the landscape so dramatically that other organisations are forced to respond. And here is the disruption — they are disrupted from their status quo and are forced to respond (often just to find a way to stay relevant).

Disruption is uncomfortable for those who are ‘disrupted’ because they can no longer stay in the status quo of their old ways. If they are to remain viable, they have to radically change what they do, or get left behind.

Kodak was a leader in film technology that was ‘disrupted’ by the arrival of digital photography. The change in the market disrupted Kodak’s business and it was forced into a response. The outcome of this response (or lack of an effective response) can be seen by its current position in this market today.

The organisation that ‘disrupts' does not set out with the intention of making its competitors change. What it did was provide something to its customers or consumers that changed their experience, and the customers voted with their hearts, minds and wallets.

The businesses that are ‘disrupted' are stuck in fear and habit. They didn't recognise the opportunity, didn't see the new idea serve the customer better, and only felt ‘forced' to change when the writing was well and truly on the wall. Their view is often inward — on their own success, on their own story and their own products, rather than the evolving customer need.

Managing disruption as a two pronged process:

1. Focusing on enhancing the customer experience in every way

Manage disruption by facing the right way — towards your customer. Build an organisation that deeply values and understands the customer experience and seek to continuously improve it. Hear the customer, and continuously seek to enhance their experience as you serve them. When there is no ‘gap’ between an experience the customer truly values what you offer, there is little space for disruption. Consider how viable ride-sharing services would be to the mainstream if taxis had offered an experience that was truly valued by its customers?

2. Creating an organisation that can learn, respond & adapt

Next it is critical to create an organisation that is not afraid to change in response to what is happening in the market, and is not driven by fear and habit. Often, even when we are creating a brilliant customer experience, someone invents something that opens up new opportunities and can even create new expectations. All of a sudden, the ‘gap’ opens and innovations appear that leap-frog your customer experience and put you behind. If you are not nimble enough to change, and smart enough to see the signs, then you can expect to be massively disrupted.

Change is simply inevitable. Whether you lead change, follow change or are disrupted by it is your choice. Set your organisation up to focus on the customer experience, and to continue exploring the ‘edges’ of your customer base for emerging trends, unmet needs and opportunities, and you can be well set up to manage disruption.

People often claim that disruption happens because of technology — however, technology is only ever the enabler of either great customer experience or customer frustration. Technology for the sake of technology (like the millions of useless and value poor apps that companies have been talked into creating that no one uses) gets in the way of how the customer would prefer to act. However, great tech that leverages information, choice, speed and responsiveness can greatly enhance the experience. It is the experience of using the tech — not the tech itself — that creates the disruption.

So how well would you say your organisation is set up to manage disruption? Are you completely customer facing, and agile enough to stay on trend and expectation in serving the customer experience?