Behind The Buzzwords Podcast: Disruptors

The business world is famous for jargon and phrases that become so overused they soon become meaningless. ‘Disruptors’ is one of these words, and is explained from different perspectives in this great podcast episode from BBC called Behind The Buzzwords.

I came across the term ‘disruptive technologies’ in the early 2000s after reading The Innovator’s Dilemma by the late Professional Clayton Christensen. I ended up using some of his theories to help me with major research project analysing what was going on with the record labels and retailers in the Australian music-industry as online P2P file-sharing emerged and began to ‘disrupt’ the physical music business model. 

Interestingly, the perception of ‘disruption’ was subjective. For the small indie labels and artists, digital music was a new opportunity to reach new audiences. For the major labels, it was perceived negatively as a threat, especially as no legal services existed. It was the same with music retailers. 

This podcast explores these fascinating issues further in the context of 20 years on. It is well worth a listen. 

Humanocracy: Creating Organisations As Amazing As The People Inside Them

It is rare that you come across a business book that makes you scream “YEEEESSSS!” when you haven’t even read it yet. In fact, I don’t think that has ever happened to me before.

Just a few words in the blurb from author Gary Hamel did it for me:

“Our organisations are failing us. They’re sluggish, change-phobic, and emotionally arid. Human beings, by contrast, are adaptable, creative, and full of passion. This gap between individual and organisational capability is the unfortunate by-product of bureaucracy–the top-down, rule-choked management structure that undergirds virtually every organisation on the planet” – Gary Hamel, management guru and author of Humanocracy

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This quote, COVID-19 and first-hand experience of these issues over the past 20 years provided the inspiration for me to want to better understand what is going on inside large and small organisations around the world across 15 dimensions including leadership, strategy, culture, processes, and technology.

This led to a multi-month project producing the REIGNITE! 2020 Report, numerous new tools and frameworks including the COVID Response Index (CRI) and REIGNITE! FLYWHEEL, a forthcoming ebook (wait list here), and new set of offerings at REIGNITE! Global. 

I doubt Gary Hamel realises what he has started and the impact he is going to have with this book. Actually, he probably does.

Humaocracy is out soon and on pre-order now. Obviously, I have signed up. Book review to follow in September I think.

#covidresponse #covidimpact #leadership #strategicresponse #organisationalbehaviour #organisationalchange

Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

On Friday I caught up with a friend who works at WhatIf (now owned by Accenture). We were talking about the impact of COVID-19 on the future workforce. He mentioned an interesting point around how the crisis could drive increased mental health impacts as employees (and companies) grapple with the future transition from ‘work-from-home’ to whatever is the ‘new normal’.

Some firms may stay as is, some may adopt a hybrid model, and some may go back to offices full-time. Whichever the model, each presents its own set of unique short-term challenges for staff and firms.

Gartner have a great article here discussing these issues further. It is called ‘Leading Your Employees Through The Emotional Side of COVID-19’. If you are leading or managing teams, I suggest you take a look.

14 Sources of Disruption

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant or catastrophic disruption to many organisations, it is almost crazy to think that COVID-19 represents one source of disruption. Obviously it is a major shock and is inter-related with other forces (e.g. economic). However, from a crisis response perspective and the need to re-set short and longer-term strategic plans, it is important for leaders to always look at the bigger picture.

Why? According to Amy Webb, founder of  The Future Today Institute:

If leaders think that they are aware of the forces that might disrupt their company, their lens’ may be far too narrow…

To support such analysis, I use a tool called The Strategic Forces Framework (SFFF) which Amy Webb discusses in detail here

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Clearly, the SFFF builds on long-standing (and less comprehensive) frameworks including PESTLE. Many forces will seem obvious, but others less so.  

Amy Webb provides context on using the tool:

The SFFF helps clients identify external uncertainties which broadly affect business, markets, and society across positive, neutral, or negative dimensions. In over a decade of strategy consulting and research, I have observed that all major or ‘disruptive changes’ are the result of one or more of the 11 forces. 

For leaders and executives, the critical skill is being able to look for areas of convergence, inflections, and contradictions, with emerging patterns especially important because they signal ‘transformation’ of some kind. People must connect the dots back to their industries and companies, and position teams to take incremental – or transformative – actions as required.

Whilst many of the 11 sources of disruption might seem obvious or onerous at first, taking a broader viewpoint provides perspective as the tool can help identify critical growth opportunities (e.g. market-creating innovations) or areas of potential disruption (e.g. new business models). For example, an established regional farming equipment firm tracking eco-friendly infrastructure trends could be a first mover into new or emerging markets, while a traditional electronics retailer (with online operations) monitoring 5G, IoT and AI plus segments of non-consumption, could be better positioned to compete against the big e-commerce platforms.

Whilst Amy uses 11 forces, I add 3 more to make 14. See below for details but I believe that Legal, Industry, and Business Models deserve their own line of enquiry. You only have to think about the music-industry in the early 2000s to understand why that matters.

Sources of macro change encompass the following:

  1. Prosperity: the distribution of income and wealth across a society; asset concentration; and the gap between the top and bottom of the pyramid in within an economy.
  2. Education: access to and quality of primary, secondary, and postsecondary education; workforce training; trade apprenticeships; certification programs; the ways in which people are learning and the tools they’re using
  3. Infrastructure: physical, organizational, and digital structures needed for society to operate (bridges, power grids, roads, Wi-Fi towers, closed-circuit security cameras); the ways in which the infrastructure of one city, state, or country might affect another’s.
  4. Government: local, state, national, and international governing bodies, their planning cycles, their elections, and the regulatory decisions they make.
  5. Geopolitics: the relationships between the leaders, militaries, and governments of different countries; the risk faced by investors, companies, and elected leaders in response to regulatory, economic, or military actions.
  6. Economy: Standard macroeconomic and microeconomic factors, including interest rates, inflation, exchange rates, taxation
  7. Public Health: changes occurring in the health and behaviour of a community’s population in response to lifestyles, disease, government regulation, warfare or conflict, and religious beliefs.
  8. Social: Life-style, trends, ethics, norms, religions, diversity and inclusion, culture, religion, demographics, population rates and density, human migration, and other dynamics are leading to shifts in communities, markets (including non-consumption) and societal needs
  9. Environment: changes to the natural world or specific geographic areas, including extreme weather events, climate fluctuations, rising sea levels, drought, high or low temperatures, and more. Agricultural production is included in this category.
  10. Communications: all of the ways in which we send and receive information and learn about the world, including social networks, news organizations, digital platforms, video streaming services, gaming and e-sports systems, 5G, and the boundless other ways in which we connect with each other.
  11. Technology: not as an isolated source of macro change, but as the connective tissue linking business, government, and society. We always look for emerging tech developments as well as tech signals within the other sources of change.
  12. Legal: Privacy, health and safety, labour, consumer rights, product safety 
  13. Industry: Suppliers, buyers, non-buyers (e.g. non-consumption), competitors (current and new), substitutes, distribution channels, partners, ecosystems and value-networks 
  14. Business Models: The incredible pace of technological change continues to open up more ways to make money and go-to-market. Combined with the tremendous disruptive impact business model innovation can have on traditional firms and industries, I believe it is critical to include it as a separate category for investigation e.g. Software-as-a-service, Direct-to-consumer, Pay-as-you-go

How best to use the SFF?

Most companies we encounter use the Strategic Forces Framework to help make sense of initial or deep uncertainty, optimise existing planning processes, or reinvent how that is typically performed. Some use it at the start of a strategic project at corporate levels, while others use it as a guiding principle throughout their functional or departmental work streams, processes, and planning. The key is to make a connection between each source of change and the organisation with questions such as: 

  • Who is funding new developments and experimentation in this source of change? 
  • Which populations will be directly or indirectly affected by shifts in this area? 
  • Could any changes in this source lead to future regulatory actions? 
  • How might a shift in this area lead to shifts in other sectors? 
  • Who would benefit if an advancement in this source of change winds up causing harm?

Here are some good examples of use in business as usual (BAU) provided by Amy Webb:

I have seen the most success in teams who use the macro change tool not just for a specific deliverable but to encourage ongoing signal scanning. One UK-based multinational professional services firm took the idea to an amazing extreme:

    • It built cross-functional cohorts made up of senior leaders and managers from every part of the organization all around the world.
    • Each cohort had 10 people, and each person is assigned one of the sources of macro change, along with a few more specific technology topics and topics related to their individual jobs. 
    • Cohort members are responsible for keeping up on their assigned coverage areas. A few times a month, each cohort has a 60-minute strategic conversation to share knowledge and talk about the implications of the weak signals they’re uncovering. 

Not only is this a great way to develop and build internal muscles for signal tracking, it has fostered better communication throughout the entire organization.

Whilst this process might go against the established culture of your organization, embracing uncertainty is the best way to confront external forces outside of your control. Seeking out weak signals by intentionally looking through the lenses of macro change is the best possible way to make sure your organization stays ahead of the next wave of disruption. Better yet, it’s how your team could find itself on the edge of that wave, leading your entire industry into the future.

Jeff Bezos

“We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards. That becomes the touchstone for how we invent” – Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is arguably one of the greatest – if not the greatest – founder/CEO’s of all time. What is more unbelievable is that he is only 58, and many believe that the company he founded (Amazon) is only just getting started.

Like many of the best leaders who have disrupted industries or successfully navigated disruptive events or crises, there are many unique leadership traits which characterise Jeff Bezos. However, when I think of one thing, it is this: Customer-obsession.

Below are some ways that Jeff executes this within Amazon:

Leadership principles: It is so important to Amazon that it is the first on their list of 14. Apparently all the other principles are interchangeable, but only one must be first – customer obsession.

Core value-driver: Jeff Bezos sees that there are 5 main ways of creating shareholder value:

  • Competitor obsession
  • Business model obsession
  • Product obsession
  • Technology obsession
  • Customer obsession

While he acknowledges merits of all the approaches he believes that Customer Obsession is the healthiest approach:

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers. They experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen…”

Symbols: Early on in Amazon’s life, Jeff Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings so lieutenants would be forced to think about the crucial participant who wasn’t in the room: the customer. Now that ­surrogate’s role is played by specially trained employees, dubbed “Customer Experience Bar Raisers.” When they frown, vice ­presidents tremble.

Founding value: Amazon’s 1997 shareholder letter is the first documented account of the term Customer Obsession – in the heading Obsess over Customers.

While the whole letter makes an interesting read, not least the growth between 1996 and 1997 of 838% from $15.7 million to $147.8 million. It’s this paragraph discussing their relentless focus on delivering value for customers as the driver of their growth.

Customer obsessed growth has taken Amazon from a start-up in a garage to one of the leading companies in the world and disrupting multiple industries in its wake.

Customer focus vs customer obsession: Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix, wrote an interesting blog post explaining how Netflix adopted ‘Customer Obsession’ in his time there. In the post Gibson uses an image to compare Customer Obsession with Customer Focus which properly distinguishes the strategies:

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The below is a great short video summarising Jeff’s approach to customer obsession and long-term thinking:

This video provides details on Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles with footage from various interviews with Jeff:

Other useful articles:

Below I have captured a few must-read resources to gain insight on Jeff’s leadership philosophy:

Forbes article on seven things a highly agile CEO does: Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos (2017) on his management style and philosophy 

Havard Business review article on how Jeff Bezos makes decisions

Hal Gregersen on the one skill that made Jeff Bezos so successful: Experimentation

 

 

 

Steve Jobs

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

—Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997

Steve Jobs cofounded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976, was ousted in 1985, returned to rescue it from near bankruptcy in 1997, and by the time he died, in October 2011, had built it into the world’s most valuable company. Along the way he helped to transform seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing.

Most people would agree that Steve Jobs will go down as one of the world’s great innovators alongside Edison, Ford and Disney. However, the story of Steve Jobs will likely polarise as many as it will inspire. None of these men were saints, but long after their personalities are forgotten, history will remember how they applied imagination to technology and business. His biographer Walter Isaacson explains why:

The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the normal rules didn’t apply to him, and the passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made. His petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism.

When I reflect on Steve Jobs, there are many different leadership attributes that come to mind. However, one stands out: the ability to inspire.

Whilst Jobs was famously impatient, petulant, and tough with the people around him, his treatment of people, (though not laudable) emanated from his passion for perfection and his desire to work with only the best.

Whether in times of crises or during business as usual, the ability to inspire your people (and stakeholders) is a critical trait of the disruptive leader.

Here are some great resources to learn more about how he was able to do this:

 

Reed Hastings

As part of the 30 Disruptive Leaders in 30 Days Challenge that I set myself here, today I provide some insight around one of the best examples of a disruptive leader in Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix.

If there was one word to describe how he demonstrated disruptive leadership, it would be this: Courage

Courage (noun)

  1. the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.

“she called on all her courage to face the ordeal”

Why?

For almost a quarter of a century, Netflix and Reed Hastings have been in a constant stream of business wars, technology paradigm shifts, business model innovations, consumer habit changes, and multiple economic crashes. Despite this, Netflix has not only survived this chaos with Reed at the helm, but on multiple occasions, come out on top (as at April 2020).

A few examples of courageous (or, audacious, bold, daring, fearless) decisions made by Reed and Netflix during this time include:

  • Decision to bid $100M (at the time a significant chunk of revenue) to win House of Cards from cable rival HBO in 2011, and launch a risky backwards integration strategy into original content production;
  • Decision (2007) to open up its recommendation algorithm to the public and offer $1M to anyone who can improve it by more than 10%

However, it was the game-changing decision in the mid-2000s to pivot the company to invest and scale a streaming model which I believe was the most significant. To execute, the company split into two business units and the management team of the DVD business –  at the time representing 95% of revenue – were allegedly told by Reed to stop attending Netflix senior management meetings (see CNET article here).

Reed explains his thinking below:

“For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming,” Hastings wrote. “Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores — do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business.

“Eventually these companies realise their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover,” Hastings continued. “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.”

4 Resources to Learn More About Reed’s Leadership:

CNET article (2012) – A brilliant inside look at what happened during Netflix’s 2011 price-hike crisis which cost it 800k subscribers and stock to crash 77% in 4 months. A few leadership learnings from Reed are below:

  • Do not underestimate the need to manage different businesses separately;
  • Be forthright and transparent with customers at all times
  • Take responsibility, quickly.

TED Interview with Chris Anderson (2018) – A great interview which goes deep into Reed’s leadership style, decision-making, and ethos. According to Reed:

‘…courage is a value which must permeate the organisation. employees to have the courage to speak their mind as otherwise ‘to disagree silently is disloyal. You need the debate but it is not intense; it is more curiosity, to draw people out…’

Netflix Culture and Philosophy – This has been codified on its careers site. Once you read this, you are not left to any doubt as to why Reed – and Netflix – has been able to successfully lead the firm through disruption. More than once.

Reed’s Top 10 Rules for Success (see below). This is a compilation of advice from various interviews Reed has conducted. It is nicely put together. Key themes are :

  • Be Authentic
  • Edge of Chaos
  • Create Joy
  • Known Your Mission
  • Be Honest
  • Keep Improving
  • Think Long Term
  • Focus
  • Strong Values
  • Patience

 

 

 

Lockdown Learning

I saw a Ryan Holliday blog post today (here) where he talked about how to think about using your time effectively during the Corona Virus lockdown. In it, he referenced a quote from the author Robert Green:

There are two types of time: alive time and dead time. One is when you sit around, when you wait until things happen to you. The other is when you are in control, when you make every second count, when you are learning and improving and growing.

As we enter week 2 of lockdown, I certainly haven’t been proactive or strategic about learning or improving anything specific. But I have noticed the following changes in behaviours and habits:

  • Running to make up for no sport (45min runs with our labrador every other day)
  • Creative cooking (I cooked an amazing southern fried chicken – using panko breadcrumbs and buttermilk – and chips…on a Monday night!)

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  • Blogging activity has increased (have posted 5x compared to x1 over past 3 months)
  • Significant more quality time with our 3 and 4yo (I’m doing the lion-share of home-schooling at the moment)
  • Significant more VCs with family and friends (this includes a 5hr session using HouseParty on a Sat night with 3 other local friends…let’s just say Sunday was very tough)
  • Sleeping has stayed about the same (I typically get around 8hrs per night, which I need)
  • Podcasts, audiobooks, books, online articles etc have remained the same

I have downloaded Duolingo although am yet to take the next steps. I need to co-ordinate with Lydia on which language we should attempt.

Over the next few weeks, I anticipate that the above will continue. A major addition will be an independent work project or 2, and hopefully be in early development by the end of April. Whether this is research, a product (e.g. online course, e-book etc) or something else, I am yet to decide. But I will post an update here soon when I know more.

 

Taking Action

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A few weeks ago I posted about the impact the passing of Professor Clayton Christensen had on me from afar. At the end of the post I indicated that it would likely cause a change in my own career direction, and that I would update at some time in the future.

I didn’t think an update post would be required after only a few weeks, but given the impact his passing has had on me, I think it is warranted. Since that post, I have:

  • Investigated and commenced applications to various post-graduate courses (PhD, MPhil, MRes) at universities in London, Cambridge, Oxford and Surrey
  • Set up calls for March with the Clayton Christensen Institute in Boston (including Clayton’s co-author on the Prosperity Paradox)
  • Reached out to various people in my network for advice including my former university lecturer (now Professor at Imperial Business School); my university boss who hired me to tutor Strategic Management and is now running learning programmes in Myanmar; a former managing director at Accenture – who I trekked Kiliminjaro with – who ran the not-for-profit consulting arm focused on emerging markets; a friend with extensive international development experience who runs a social impact consultancy to the financial investment sector.
  • Read The Prosperity Paradox and How To Measure Your Life, plus purchased other Christensen books which I had not yet read
  • Started initial research into other scholars, academics, and researchers who have studied the relationship between innovation, prosperity and economic development
  • Brain-stormed and and continued to iterate on various research topics to explore during post-graduate studies
  • Developed a new plan on how I want to spend the next decade professionally to provide more fulfilment and alignment with values
  • Spoke to an executive coach to help me process my thinking and future actions

It is certainly amazing what can happen when life throws a curve-ball that lights an unexpected fire that provides long overdue focus and realignment with work that matters. Exciting times ahead.