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

MAG-webb-essay-s1

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.

Strategy Tools

Recently I came across Strategy Tools and the founder Christian Rangen. He has put together a series of simple tools and software to make it better, easier, and more fun to think about, and develop, strategies and plans within businesses large and small. There are multiple ways to use the tools, whether in-person or virtually via canvasses, simulations, games, apps, and more.

There are many other use cases for the tools (e.g. government, executive education etc) however the point is well made: the practice of strategy has become too hard.

As a strategy practitioner and consultant for over a decade, he is 100% right. Why this is the case is a post for another day.

For example, the below ‘Strategy Intro’ tool is visually, super simple. The hard part is obviously getting the details filled out. But having an easy way to represent something complex – in a way a teenager could understand – is a huge benefit for firms and practitioners.

This is especially relevant for those firms who believe that ‘strategy’ is spending 6-9 months every 3-5 years to create a 300 page document full of power-points which no-one ever reads, nor can remember.

The Long Term Funding Roadmap

There are 30+ more of these tools available for different business requirements (e.g. scale-up planning, transformation). Over the next few weeks I’ll be learning from Christian (via the Strategy Tools Coaching Course) deep-diving into these. I’ll be sure to write a few posts on how it goes, as well as the most relevant tools I come across.

Gig Work Acceleration

I came across an article today (here) in Forbes which summarised findings from recent PwC and BCG CEO surveys. Most of the findings were self-evident, especially around the acknowledgement of increased requirements for, and adoption of, independent consultants going forward during and beyond COVID 19:

  • More companies are likely to access freelancers both for cost efficiency and to supplement critical skill sets;
  • The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) offers interesting and important freelance work and lots of it;
  • Freelancers are a critical resource to more industries;
  • More areas of freelancing will grow in importance.
Source. BCG

 

It is hard to believe that a little over a decade ago, organisations weren’t able to easily access remote (or on-site) highly-skilled workers and teams using the internet (e.g. online marketplaces) or mobile apps.  Nor were such firms willing to do so, especially at scale and for a wider variety of higher-skilled freelance talent e.g. lawyers, management consultants.

As a lawyer in Australia and London in the mid-to-late 2000s, I remember that it was career suicide to turn your back on traditional law firms and pursue contracts with in-house legal departments. How things have changed!

 

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:

Screenshot 2019-05-17 at 21.39.05

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

 

 

 

5 Disruptive Leaders 5 Days

Following my crisis leadership post (here), I’ve been thinking a lot about how the senior management of businesses around the world – whether multi-national companies with 300k staff or small SMEs with a few employees – are leading their firms through these disruptive times.

So starting tomorrow (Wed 8th April 2020), I’m starting a mini-challenge: 5 Disruptive Leaders in 5 Days.

Each day I will focus on a business leader who has demonstrated leadership through a disruptive crisis, whether due to competitive threats, new business models, war, product liability, terrorism, or economic meltdowns. I’ll keep it simple with a few practical tips on key things to learn, including leadership attributes they demonstrated, and links to a few resources to learn more (e.g. videos, podcasts, books, articles etc).

Right. Let’s do it #5DisruptiveLeaders5Days

Disney+ Launch

Today we signed up to Disney+ after it finally launched in the Channel Islands. We have been waiting for this day since Disney announced the service in 2019. We are big film fans but haven’t been too keen to pay £12-15 per title to stream a Disney film.

As such, we haven’t been able to introduce our 3 and 4 year old to animated classics including Aladdin, 101 Dalmatians, and Beauty and The Beast. With the lockdown and homeschooling due to the Corona Virus pandemic, the £5.99/mth represents unbelievable value.

The performance of Disney+ has been extraordinary, but not surprising. CEO Bob Iger’s M&A strategy to bolt-on franchises including Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel is now paying tremendous dividends across its digital and physical assets (e.g. theme parks).

On 3rd February 2020, the company had signed up 28.6 million global subscribers (since US launch in November 2019) with many more markets to launch. By comparison, Netflix has 149 million paid subscribers (see chart below):

disney v netflix

Despite limited content, Apple TV+ has around 33million US subscribers, although it is unclear how many are paid. Amazon Prime has also been very serious player for some time. These firms both have the deepest of pockets and serious ambitions. It will be interesting to see how these streaming wars play out.

 

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!)

IMG_5558

  • 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.

 

Crisis Leadership

Just about every business large and small across the world has been in crisis mode for some time dealing with the catastrophic consequences of the Corona Virus pandemic. Almost daily now there are announcements from companies shedding employees or going into administration. One interesting trend however are those CEOs who are pledging not to lay-off workers. For example, on March 26th in Techcrunch Marc Benioff (Salesforce CEO) announced a 90 day pledge.

This has got me thinking lately at a more macro-level: who are those business leaders who have successfully led companies through crises?

  1. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in pivoting and transforming the business when confronted by an emerging disruptive technology, business models, and established well-funded competition;
  2. Steve Jobs in the late 1990s when he returned to the company he founded (and was ousted from);
  3. Richard Branson in the 1990s at Virgin Atlantic during the ‘dirty tricks war’ with British Airways;
  4. Bob Iger as CEO of Disney when, whilst he was opening Shanghai Disney, a toddler was killed by an alligator at Disney World Florida;
  5. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp as the new CEO of Lego Group in 2004 and embarking on a transformational turnaround;
  6. Angela Ahrendts as the new CEO of Burberry and transforming its brand and performance from ‘chavvy’ to high-end luxury;
  7. Amex CEO Kenneth Chenault following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks;
  8. CEO Howard Schultz in 1997 when a robbery killed 3 employees at a US store;
  9. Toyota CEO Jim Lentz during a 2.3 million car recall in the US

The way these leaders responded to their various crises – whether caused by macro-factors (e.g. terrorism, recession, disruptive technologies) or internal (e.g. mismanagement) – were certainly ‘make or break’ situations. In other words, without strong leadership and executing on relevant crisis management principles, the outcomes could have been catastrophic and/or bankrupted their respective companies.

Such leaders deployed various business strategies and tactics but professionally exhibited courage, decisiveness, emotional intelligence, transparency,  ownership, clear communication, and many other characteristics. It will be interesting to see how many current organisations and brands respond in a way that also gives them the best chance to survive short-term, as well as in a post-Corona world.

 

Zooming

I came across an article this week here which asked whether Corona Virus (CV) could present a tipping point for virtual events. This reminded me of a pre-CV experience at the end of 2019. I attended a virtual conference hosted by marketing guru Seth Godin.

Afterward I was amazed at how far VC technology has come in being able to easily manage large numbers of people in an interesting and organised way which adds-value to both sides. He ran it using Zoom, had over 300 attendees from 50 countries, used self-managed break-out rooms over the course of the 2hrs, and created interactivity (which game them market research) with Q&A into the chat boxes.

Whilst it wasn’t perfect, it was impressive. I would certainly attend more of these, and reconsider in-person ones. Until this time, I had only ever used VC tech for standard corporate meeting use cases with just a few people. Now, I am recommending my parents to set up Zoom as an alternative for traditional B2C options (Skype, FaceTime).  Although that may change if the firm can’t get a handle on Zoom-bombing.

Despite some negative scaling side-effects and challenges, Zoom’s stock has post-IPO gone through the roof (actually, through the atmosphere). This gives them a massive window to place new bets and scale-up new products, value-added services, and M&A.

It is not often a newly public firm gets to invest for the long-term, but now is the certainly the time to accelerate investments into becoming a key player within the enterprise (and B2C?) ecosystem. Vertical, horizontal and hybrid platform solutions across many sectors and use cases will likely emerge as it has with IoT. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, how Zoom responds, and how long until its market capitalisation falls back down to earth.

Homeschooling

We are now one week into lock-down from Corona Virus. With schools closed and my consulting pipeline now zero, this has meant I’ve been on point with our 2 kids (aged 3 and 4) to manage the ‘homeschooling’. In summary, somehow it worked really well in that the kids didn’t kill each other, nor did I want to kill them, and nor did Lydia and I. It was only after day 4 that Lydia and reached for the wine (we assumed this would happen on day 1).

We knew that some structure would be needed – mainly to stop the kids and I from going insane – so I took each day as it came, but trying to balance three areas: learning, creativity, and physical activity.  Aside from some basic materials and ideas the school and nursery shared, I used what we had at home already, plus a few extra learning activity books I bought online. We got extremely lucky with warm spring weather every day which obviously helped.

Here’s very rough look at what each day entailed:

  • 9am – indoor physical activity (e.g. Youtube kids videos featuring Joe Wicks, street-dancing)
  • 930am – learning activities (e.g. reading, writing, drawing, stories)
  • 1030am – snack time and free-play (my favourite part)
  • 1115am – outdoor creative or physical activity (e.g. treasure hunt, school sports day)
  • 1230pm – lunch
  • 1pm – indoor creative activity (e.g. Lego building – my favourite part, puzzles)
  • 2pm – outdoor free-play (my favourite part)

Admittedly, after 3 days the structure certainly loosened and in line with the weather we spent more time outside in the garden.

In addition, we also did the following every other day:

  • Dog walk to the beach (remote area, obviously)
  • VC with family or their school friends
  • Watched BBC’s Our Planet series
  • Watched and listened to a book narration

A good idea which they enjoyed came from my mum. The kids did a ‘project’ where they chose a topic of interest to present back to her and my dad via VC. I helped them find ten facts, find physical items in the house, and find something for them to colour in. Angus chose dinosaurs, and Georgina chose princesses. Watching them (and my parents) use VC technology (FaceTime) to discuss their project findings was fascinating and obviously a basic observation of the future of learning. Next week it will be sharks and giraffes. And possibly wine much earlier than day 4.

If you have any homeschooling survival tips or tricks, please drop me a line at andrewessa@gmail.com

Taking Action

action-2-750x422

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.

Thank you, Clayton

In early January 2003 I embarked on a year-long academic research project at Queensland University Of Technology where I was studying and teaching. The work culminated in a 50,000 word thesis centred around applying Clayton Christensen’s theories on disruptive innovation to the Australian music industry. I was fascinated in trying to understand the competitive responses of key players in the Australian music industry as they battled a disruptive innovation – digital music distribution. At the time, the entire industry – from major record labels to retailers such as HMV – was in a state of chaos meaning it presented a fascinating ‘live’ research case study. 

As part of the literature review, I had come across Clayton Christensen’s academic work and books in a comprehensive strategy and innovation theory review alongside management luminaries in Michael Porter. His work didn’t feature too widely in peer-reviewed journals as his seminal work (The Innovator’s Dilemma) had only recently been published (late 90s). However I distinctly remember that I was immediately captivated by how insightful and unique his work was in such a complicated area i.e. understanding why established companies often fail when confronted with emerging technologies. I felt that this represented a step-change from the traditional (i.e. manufacturing-driven) strategic management literature, but also drew relationships (and challenges) with research from various fields, including management, economics, finance, strategy, leadership, innovation, & organisational behaviour.  As I sought to better understand what was happening, why, and the implications in the rapidly evolving music industry, I felt that his frameworks, models and case studies of other industries were highly relatable to analysing the challenge I faced.

Clayton was the reason why I subsequently pursued career paths loosely aligned with his work. I became a technology lecturer teaching university students in the early 2000s on the new field of e-Commerce law. I became a technology lawyer advising governments on emerging online gambling regulatory models. I became a technology management consultant helping global telcos with strategy, transformation, & operating models. I launched a start-up to gain the ‘innovators’ perspective on launching & scaling disruptive technologies (NB the start-up was too early and later failed, and as such was far from being disruptive). I even launched my own version of Clayton’s Innosight consulting firm called ROCKET + COMMERCE which helps CXOs to navigate and take advantage of new and emerging technologies (e.g. Digital, Internet Of Things, Digital, SaaS etc). 

I had planned to make contact with Clayton and share my thesis in 2003/04, but I didn’t. I had planned to experience his teachings in Boston, but I never applied. I had once planned to convince Innosight to hire me, but I never pursued them. Upon hearing about Clayton’s recent passing, I immediately thought about these potential ‘missed’ opportunities to meet, engage, and express gratitude to someone who has had so much influence from afar. Whilst I now won’t ever have that opportunity, perhaps there are other ways. A crazy idea might be to build upon his work, like I aimed to do back in 2003. To do that properly may mean a radical career U-turn back to my academic roots. An easy idea would be to express gratitude to those who have helped me along the life journey so far, even if just a little. I don’t think I have thoughtfully done this, so right now would be a good time to start. To help provide additional inspiration, I’ve just ordered Clayton’s book from some years ago – How Will You Measure Your Life? (I didn’t realise he had written it). I’m sure it will have great ideas. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it also has a profound impact like his earlier works did on how I might spend the next 10-20 years. Watch this space (NB: I’ll provide a direct update to this post in 5 years on Jan 26 2025. Promise). 

RIP Clayton

Contrarian Thinking

I was talking to a prospective partner today and in talking about start-up investing, he brought up the concept of ‘contrarian thinking’ came up. I had come across the concept previously, but couldn’t remember where (I later realised I had read it in Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One). So I was asked if there was something I believed in that no-one else did. The question caught me off guard which is no surprise as subsequent research shows it is a very difficult question, especially in direct conversations (vs a written response in a job application situation).

Whilst I couldn’t come up with a appropriate response, I promised to email across something (hopefully) coherent later. As the risk of being controversial (sorry), below is what I shared:

  • Participation awards for kids/adults who don’t win a race/task are not that helpful! You either win or lose
  • In most cases, people always have choices in most situations e.g. you fail, so what do you do next?
  • Whether you like or loathe him, Trump is very very talented and a game-changer e.g. pre-office wealth, use of Twitter to bypass govt process, connect with base etc
  • In 2010-11, I was what in hindsight is called ‘directionally correct’ with my first start-up, The Social Experiences Club. To make it successful, we had to take a contrarian view to the prevailing thinking. I, along with co-founders, believed that EVERYONE would be using smart phones to discover/search/book local experiences in their city (very few VCs, angels, experts and not enough customers agreed!). In 2015 the business sold as couldn’t scale further and raise Series A. In 2016, Airbnb launched their experiences offer and have sold millions of experiences since…

For those interested in reading more about this style of thinking, I suggest you start here with this video and transcript of Peter Thiel discussing it in detail.

 

 

Podcasts

Recently I wrote about what podcasts I’m listening to and enjoying. Since then I’ve discovered so many more great podcasts and want to share them here. All are biased towards the themes I enjoy listening to: business, technology, innovation, & startups:

* Recode Decode – hosted by veteran tech journalist Kara Swisher who interviews founders, lawyers, politicians & others on critical tech issues of the day

* Pivot – another one hosted by Kara but this format is her hanging out with fellow tech junkie, NYU academic & entrepreneur Scott Galloway.

* Worklife – hosted by organisational psychologist & academic Adam Grant who explores issues in the workplace

* Exponent – hosted by strategists Ben a Thompson (of Stratechery blog) & James Allworth they dissect in great detail latest news, product strategies or business models of tech giants like Apple, Facebook, Amazon etc

* a16z – hosted by various members of Andreesen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley VC

Perspective

Last month I took 3 weeks off for a trip to Australia with the family. It was the longest holiday I’ve had since I got married (7 years ago). We spent the majority with friends at the beach, hosted everyone at an amazing beach house we rented, & celebrated my 40th over multiple days. We also took a road trip to the tiny town where I grew up (and hadn’t been back for 29 years). We introduced the kids (2 & 3yo) to my home country for the first time. It was an amazing trip.

Reflecting on it now, the one major personal benefit was perspective. Being away from the daily grind freed up my mind to think about the bigger picture. To reassess both immediate & longer-term objectives & plans. To revisit & eventually listen to what my gut was saying.

Although not everyone is able to take that much time off, if you can, definitely do it. Or take as many shorter breaks as you can manage. Plus, bake in ‘perspective time’ into your daily week. This could be morning routines, fitness, listening to music or podcasts when commuting, or simply walking. I’m certainly more mindful of this now. For me, I’m generally pretty good at focusing on this. My week of perspective time generally looks like this:

  • 4x week of sport squash & fitness (weights, run, spin class)
  • x2 Podcasts per day (right now I’m into The Pitch, Without Fail, Product Hunt Radio, a16z, Business Wars Daily, Masters of Scale)
  • 5 min Journal morning & night (I’m generally poor at this)
  • Read for at least 15 min before going to bed (currently reading Michael Ovitz’s autobiography & Bad Blood, story of the Theranos fraud)
  • x1 week dog walk/run on beach

Given that we have a 2 & 3 year old I’m doing pretty well to achieve the above. Our next family trip is a week away in May which will be outdoorsy, staying in cabins in a forest outside the Cotswolds. We do it yearly and I can’t wait. Perfect for gaining perspective.

Smart Contracts: The Big Questions

It feels as though people have been talking smart contracts for a long time. Like most new innovations, it will take a specific use case (i.e. business challenge important enough to justify adoption) to kick it out of the domain of academics & legal conferences, and into commerce & industry. Perhaps this has already happened. If it has, be sure to give me a shout.

Yesterday,  I came across an interesting analysis of smart contracts from Charles Kerrigan, a lawyer at big law firm CMS. It was compiled by Richard Troman of the blog Artificial Lawyer’s (must read for the legal techies out there). Mr Kerrigan was giving a speech as part of a panel giving evidence to the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain at the end of last year. Whilst the speech is detailed, it provides an interesting deep dive into some of the pervasive questions out there on smart contracts. As Richard Troman’s points out:

…as the prospect of their use in day to day legal work draws ever closer, what should we be focusing on? How should we approach this subject and what really will be the key issues we need to grapple with before this quintessentially legal technology becomes mainstream?

The full extract is posted on Artificial Lawyer’s blog here. If you have any thoughts, or know of any live smart contract use cases in industry, be sure to let me know.

Understanding Product-Market Fit

“The term product/market fit describes ‘the moment when a startup finally finds a widespread set of customers that resonate with its product” – Eric Ries

I’m currently advising the management team of a multi-national technology client who are looking to commercialise a B2B SaaS platform they acquired recently. The software isn’t a standalone product so doesn’t have market traction nor product-market fit (PMF). Whilst a plan to achieve PMF is critical, a more immediate task is to educate the management team on the actual concept. I’ve discovered recently that it isn’t a commonly understood term within the client, although the high-level meaning behind it is.

From my start-up days, the concept of product-market fit (PMF) is firmly engrained into my way of working (and thinking). Before that experience, I hadn’t come across it. I had forgotten that PMF within corporates probably isn’t an assumed way of understanding product development.

To help me plan and educate the client, I did a deep-dive into the research for articles. The best one is a brilliant summary from Tren Griffin reposted on the blog of Silicon Valley VC Andreesen Horwotiz. It is so good that I needed to share it here. It’s a must read for anyone working in business today.

The Hype Cycle

I came across an article today which talked about why IoT has fallen short of expectations (check it out here). In summary, the key themes were:

  • Optimism of prediction
  • Niche consumer value
  • Privacy concerns
  • Inconsistent standards across hardware/software
  • Costs and limitations
  • Slow promise of the smart home use case

Reading this reminded me of what tends to happen with the adoption of most disruptive (or new) technologies, whether the Internet, AR/VR, AI, blockchain, or cryptocurrency. It is best represented by the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies who shows the rise-fall-rise of how markets tend to adopt innovations.

Below I’ve pasted in a Hype Cycle dedicated to IoT:

The key takeaway from the above charts is time. People always overestimate how quickly the mass market will adopt new innovations. There’s an entire body of work dedicated to explaining the reasons and not for this post. But it’s just not easy to get technology to a cost/performance level that works beyond the early adopters. A lot of things have to go right. And that includes one of the biggest things beyond technology: changing human behaviour.