Dealing with disruption – be inspired not pressured by tech innovation.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen once said “The concept of disruption is about competitive response; it is not a theory of growth.” If I could give a growing business, start-up to scale-up, a principle to build their business, it would be that.

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Disruption is a positive force for good in business. Across all industries, but especially in technology and media, change has been felt in all corners and, for consumers and ultimately for the industries themselves, that change has brought powerful innovation and often world-changing development.

One disruptive technology which has, over the last 15 years, taken over to become a staple of modern society is mobile. So much so that this week more than 110,000 people have descended on Barcelona for an event celebrating all things “mobile”.

Each year Mobile World Congress sees the biggest names in technology and media launch, test and debate innovative products, services and concepts.

From Google to Samsung and Facebook, the week-long show has been a festival of innovation. This year some of the biggest stories have come from areas that are seen as the next stage in this increasingly mobile-led world.

Huawei’s smartphone-controlled, self-driving Porsche grabbed the headlines – tapping into one of the latest examples of disruptive technology in driverless vehicles. While T-Mobile addressed the infrastructure challenge head-on by announcing it will build out 5G across 30 cities this year, with Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas to have the service by 2019.

In short, the word “disruption” is rarely used as often as it is in Barcelona every February/March.

Disruption can’t be an obsession

We work with growing businesses every day, from smaller start-ups to burgeoning scale-ups, and the word “disruption” is very much part of the conversation. Whether that’s because businesses are entering a disruptive industry, or they are launching or developing an innovative, unique technology, it is a concept we find people often hinge their future success upon.

While being part of a “disruptive” technological world is a powerful, positive thing that offers huge business opportunity, it can very easily become an obsession. And this, for us, is where disruption becomes more dangerous. Because, as Clayton Christensen said, disruption is about your place in a market, it is not a golden ticket to sustained success.

Back in 2016, the World Economic Forum was abuzz with the power of the Internet of Things. 2017 was dubbed the year of Artificial Intelligence. At MWC, robotics and full automation seem to be the latest technology trend to be seen as the Holy Grail.

For start-ups and scale-ups, these hot tech trends are exciting and it’s easy to see why so many are drawn to such areas. But with this comes pressure to be the next big thing: the disruptor that will create a new paradigm and overturn a whole market, using the latest revolutionary technology. Instead of disruption being an exciting part of a business, it becomes an obsession and something an entire business is focused on.

Equally, finding your business within a “hot” sector can create its own issues, as money pours in and businesses rush to grab market-share before the area matures.

But in reality the most successful businesses are usually an evolution, not a revolution. There are so many examples of this. James Dyson is held up as a ground-breaking inventor, but he built on the basic concept of the hoover. His innovation was the cyclone system. Instagram saw the potential in Facebook photo uploading and simply added filters and a more intuitive mobile app to that concept.

Similarly, you need only look at Amazon to see how being “first” to innovate isn’t always the best position. They weren’t the first to do e-commerce, but they refined and some would say perfected it and are now one of the most important businesses in the world.

The pursuit of cresting the wave of the next tech trend can see younger businesses overusing buzzwords, innovating in areas they wouldn’t normally focus on, and trying to position themselves as something they’re not, with investors, the media and even customers.

Ultimately, this will leave them chasing their tails.

Focus on your own unique business – disruption will happen when you grow

The most successful organisations, especially when they are growing, are those which are flexible and adaptable to industry changes, learning quickly from mistakes and pivoting into new areas or new customer focus if they need to. 

To ensure long-term success, our advice to any business is to really think carefully about your idea, place in the market and your business’ unique strengths and ambitions. Build a short, mid and long-term business plan around this and allow disruption to come naturally.

Not every business will be the next Tesla, and in truth it may not want to be. But there can be incredible value in refining an existing model, applying technology in a new way or even serving a particular market niche.

By building a business plan based on authenticity rather than trends and buzzwords, entrepreneurs can secure sustained growth and achievement, rather than becoming a flash in the pan.

You need only look at MWC to see how powerful this can be.

Many of the major developments coming out of the show have been led by technology companies that have been around for decades and have worked hard to evolve but always keep their focus on who they really are as a business and what their ultimate goal is.

Disruption should be a by-product of creating a brilliant and successful business, it shouldn’t be the reason that organisation was founded.

More from our Technology and Media team can be found here.

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