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Why You Should Create Your Own Enemy

Disruptive innovations are like missiles launched at your organization. Attack your business before others do it.

By Gustavo Razzetti

June 2, 2015

Disruptive innovations are like missiles launched at your business, according to Clayton Christensen, the world’s foremost authority on business disruptions. You can’t see them coming until it’s too late.

Take the case of UBER: in just less than 18 months, the app accounts for nearly half of all ground transportation business expenses at many companies in North America.


Can You See Them Coming?

“Disruptive innovations are like missiles launched at your business” – Clayton Christensen

That disruptions happen fast is no surprise. The question is, do incumbent companies see them coming? To answer this question, I’ve spent many hours over the past years interviewing several executives from various organizations.

Interestingly enough, in most of the cases, the organizations that got hit by a missile (AKA market disruption) weren’t really caught by surprise, according to my findings. They somehow saw it coming or knew it might happen, and decided not to prevent the potential attack. Following are some of the key reasons I've observed:

  • Lack of urgency: not doing anything or delaying action based on notions such as “It’s not going to happen on my watch” or “It will take one more decade to become feasible.”
  • Arrogance: believing that leaders will always be leaders. “We are going to let someone else try the new business model and if it works, we’ll buy it for cheap”.
  • Confidence: the belief that not understanding or having specific experience in a business is an entry barrier. Interestingly enough, disruption is not built on past expertise but on experimentation and learning on the go. Think of Facebook, AIRbnb, and LinkedIn. None of their founders had experience in social media, connecting global professionals or connecting people that have/need a place to stay. They all had to write the rules of their games by trial and error.
  • Fear: some organizations are very ambitious when it comes to what they want to achieve, yet very conservative when it comes to challenging their own status-quo. “I don’t want to put my job on the line,” “There’s too much risk involved,” “we better keep business as usual.”
  • Minimizing the threat: thinking about a disruption but dismissing it. I can’t help but think of the paid-tv business; many of them don’t see streaming players like Netflix as a huge threat. Even HBO is selling its premium content directly to users, persuading people to eliminate the middleman, cable providers, who actually invested heavily in positioning HBO as a premium must-have channel.

Create Your Enemy Before Someone Else Does

Organizations should spend time (and resources) in creating their own enemy. Exploring different scenarios, potential threats and how to anticipate those, should be a priority. Recruiting the team that will lead this initiative is as critical. I personally recommend including only those who are willing to challenge established conventions. Additionally, having a nice bunch of “outsiders” to the organization and industry in question will provide more diverse and fresher perspectives.

When doing this exercise with organizations, we focus on the following areas:

  • How to stop drinking the corporate Kool-Aid. Challenge what you take for granted, stop seeing the marketplace through the eyes of your success, think about the new role you should play.
  • How to redefine the real business that the organization needs to solve — not the business you were born into, but the new role it needs to play.
  • How to identify new models and opportunities using analogous inspiration. Which individuals or organizations are solving a similar challenge in a way that a particular one would never do?

Creating your own enemy is something every organization should be doing. They need to challenge their own assumptions and see what could happen if they continue doing business as usual. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want to be the casualty of a market disruption. Do you want to be the missile or the target?

Want to see how we can help you create your own enemy? Please reach out.

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