John Sheridan

John is CEO of Digital Business insights!

Disrupt or be disrupted

The digital revolution is probably one of the only major revolutions most of us have ever seen. The drivers and causes are not easy to understand for most people, but the impacts are clear to all…ever increasing connection, communication, information and collaboration at the touch of a button. We have never been more connected.

The industrial revolution is long gone, though its signature factories, railways and chimneys are still with us today. It had a profound effect on the way our societies are organised, and the nature of jobs that individuals perform.

We have spend the last century refining our systems, training, education and management…just in time for that to be undermined and disrupted by a new digital revolution with characteristics that take us into the future and back to the past at the same time.

On the one hand, back to the closeness of the village, but this time a new “global village” with no boundaries, or commonly agreed rules and regulations. And on the other hand, forwards into a multiverse of technology connectivity that externalises our senses and nervous system and connects us to others, to information, ideas and automation never dreamed of in Wilmington, Kent where I grew up.

Factories, chimneys, machines, smoke, steam and furnaces are hard to miss and we are still living with their industrial impacts on our environment. Digital is a different matter.

It is largely invisible. The major currents of the digital revolution driving the change are ever more connection, more collaboration and more integration. And the more, becomes even more every single day.

As a result, innovation is supercharged and the tools of the revolution are relatively cheap, easier to use all the time, and in the hands of imaginative and agile users who are very disruptive to existing business models, sectors and systems.

Software development is simpler than ever in an open system and open source world. Problems and issues are identified and attacked by thousands of individuals across the planet, and the results shared to build even better tools.

Most of this activity happens in bedrooms, home offices, cafes, libraries and first floor offices in back streets, industrial estates and above shops, not just in Silicon Valley or the Washington beltway.

New products and services are launched and fail. But the cost of failure is low and the learnings are huge. And the agile move on with new ideas, into new fertile relationships and new opportunities.

And that is a problem for establishments of all kinds, whether corporate, government or otherwise, because the disruptive levers are more accessible than ever before and the impacts of these levers can become widespread without reference to the world that was. This is a paradigm shift. Power is moving from the top to the bottom of society. Power is shifting from the “vendor” to the customer. Power is shifting from the few to the many. Power is being shared. These underlying shifts are slow but remorseless.

As in the industrial revolution, some major impacts can take decades or longer to demonstrate real effect. But there is an almost constant daily stream of minor digital impacts that captures media attention and hides the real disruptive change. There is a lot going on below the media radar. And the collective effects of all that activity are what really causes the revolution.

Meanwhile, in the old world, the established businesses and industries continue with business as usual. They are aware that something is happening. They can see it in their research, customer comments, and general conversations. But they don’t quite know what.

They are like frogs in a well. They have deep knowledge of the old world environment they operate in but only a small view of the big new digital sky.

There are whispers and rumours about this “digital disruption” but CEOs and management teams don’t change what they are doing for whispers and rumours. Many don’t even believe that anything significant or important is really happening. So they talk to colleagues.

More frogs. More wells. Big mistake.

The big guys talk to other big guys. They control and manage hundreds or even thousands of employees so they must know something, right? Of course.

They know how to succeed in the old world. That is why they grew so big and successful in the first place, and managed to maintain their position.

Big frogs in deep wells.

But they actually don’t know where to go to get advice about the new world, because the people who could tell them are already planning to eat their lunch.

And they aren’t going to warn them. They are just going to nibble as much share as possible from the toes and legs of the big corporates before they react and try to fight back. Which they will…and they do.

There is always a strong reaction. Shareholders demand it. But that model is broken as well. And it only slows decline and fall, it doesn’t stop it, because, the reaction is just that…a reaction. There is no real insight. No focus. No strategy. No exit.

Think Sensis and Yellow Pages. It was a very big frog in a very deep well. It didn’t help. There are a lot more “Yellow Pages” out there, all under threat.

Interesting times with a lot more to them than first meets the eye.

Disruption is endemic, prolific and grass roots.

Like a flood it rises from the bottom to engulf. It is not dramatic but its results are. It is remorseless. It flows in one direction and the only successful strategies are to get out of the flood or to surf it

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018