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Covid Crisis: The Best Practical Tips to Survive Disruption in 2020

Simple and helpful guide for entrepreneurs and leaders facing change

(Image: Wikipedia) 

Hands up who's NOT feeling disrupted in 2020?  

Remember when disruption was something in the future?

When it was about Artificial Intelligence, and not a terrifying grab for the last pasta at Woolies, or being thrust into powering up home offices.
When the cloud and blockchain counted as disruptive forces, not our health, our public freedoms, or our ability to work remotely.

Well, like it or hate it, these unnerving, lumpy, jumpy, chaotic-yet-stalled times are what disruption looks like in 2020. 

And leaders will need to be agile and creative to find the opportunities and lifelines for their business in amongst the layoffs and rice stockpiling.

Here, now, a practical guide with expert advice on tackling disruption head-on. 

Both disruption and innovation are about change

In our interview with futurist Gihan Perera (and proven by the events of 2020) disruption is usually something that happens TO you, and it’s usually negative. 

On the other hand, innovation is far more positive.  But both are about change. 

In his book Disruption by Design Perera says:  
  • Change is a natural part of life. But the pace of change itself is changing, and that catches people unawares.
  • Disruption by design has you in control. You disrupt yourself, but in a positive way.
  • The future belongs to possibility thinkers. It might mean letting go of past beliefs.
  • There are real costs, risks, and consequences to making changes.


How people deal with change

The urge to fight, freeze or flee has its place when it comes to survival.  But, Perera might suggest there's a fourth, more productive path - and that's to find followers to help you enact change. 

Here, he spells out the 6 ways people face disruptive changes: 

They ignore the change – or are unaware of it;
They avoid the change – and hope it will go away;
They resist the change – and try to restore the status quo;
They adapt to the change – and try to work around it;
They embrace the change – and find a way to take advantage of it;
They lead the change – and proactively create it.

See also What Makes a Leader in 2020: The Definitive Guide 
When faced with an uncertain future with a bewildering range of possibilities, most people try to simplify their choices and think small. – Gihan Perera, Disruption by Design

Instead of limiting your choices – he suggests we scan wider and look for more opportunities.
You can make smart decisions later about how to prioritise them.

Gihan Perera suggests you: 

Open Up – Lead with the right mindset, open to possibilities;
Scan Wide – Look wider and further for opportunities and threats;
Narrow Down – Make better decisions faster;
Step Up – Build a personal brand. Stand for something that matters;
There’s an I in Team – Your team has more influence, power and access than ever before;
Customers on your side – Bring your customers inside your organisation, involve them earlier;
Ask the world – Reach out to world that’s willing to help, tap into endless expertise;
Start Out – Plan, then plan to be flexible;
Keep Going – Thrive in chaos, work together to overcome obstacles.

We have to learn how to “think” disruptive, Perera says.  Some tips on how to do this from the excellent Disruption by Design, which I'll be referencing throughout this blog:
  • Don’t assume past customers will be the same as future customers;
  • Take a big picture perspective of the entire landscape, not just where you are now;
  • Embrace the fast, flat, and free digital world;
  • Look at breadth not just depth. Look broader to find what will serve you best;
  • Start with the customer, then work backwards to the technology.

Case Study from Disruption by Design:  Airbnb’s Snow White project took Airbnb back to basics by focusing the team on their customer’s journey.  Sticky notes were used to map the customer’s journey (much like a Disney storyboard would map making a movie like Snow White).  They learned that Airbnb customers weren’t buying cheap accommodation, they were buying a holiday. This led to Airbnb's realisation it was a lifestyle company, so it launched Airbnb Experiences and Airbnb Neighbourhoods.
Right now, of course, Airbnb is asking hosts to join with it in offering accommodation to health workers in the COVID-19 crisis. 

Lessons from Airbnb:

Map your future customer’s journey.
Start by mapping current customer’s journey, and then consider the impact of technology, trends, and other external changes at each step.

Dr Mathew Donald, writing in Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and Artificial Intelligence, says leadership will be challenged more than in the past, as changes will be fast but with incomplete information.

"There will likely be a large quantity of changes occurring, sometimes simultaneously crossing over one another," he writes. "It is the skill of the leadership that will influence whether the changes are successfully implemented." 

The disruption officer 

For that reason, Dr Donald recommends businesses consider hiring a disruption officer - who scans the horizon inside and outside of your industry to notice change. 
Journalists make good disruption officers, he says, as they're trained to disassemble information. 
If not, CEOs should consider disruption officer-style landscape scanning as part of their own role. 

Back to Perera.
He reminds us that most companies go through the "S curve of disruptive innovation":

Phase 1: Start up phase. You notice a problem and start up a business to solve it. Customers come.
Phase 2: The world moves on. Customers face new problems and want new solutions. You are less relevant. You are surviving.
Phase 3: Thriving through disruptive innovation.

And to thrive you have to throw out "business as usual" thinking (not difficult right now) and push yourself to develop a disruption mindset. 

Perera challenges us to think more determinedly about old ways, sunk costs, legacy decisions.

Sunk costs shouldn’t determine what’s best for the organisation now and into the future.
Ask yourself: “If we didn’t have this, what would we do differently?”

For example:
  • Owning premises gives you no landlord, but it could be holding you back from a better location, opening other locations, or letting staff work from home (as many of us do today).
  • You might have a strong brand, but that could hold you back from doing something daring that might damage that brand.
  • The positive culture in your office is an asset, but it could be holding you back from expanding your team to include remote workers.
  • Established agreements with suppliers/customers might hold you back from choosing different ones.

New businesses are especially well-placed to do this, because they don’t have to let go of the past.

Established leaders might push back, saying they're too busy with operational tasks to take a long-term view.

Here, Perera show us how to take the helicopter view:

Step outside your current role and imagine how it would look from the outside.
Ask “What if….?” questions to dig deeper and explore new opportunities.
Be careful not to be influenced by the rules and established culture of your organisation.
Make it a habit.


Thinking Ahead questions to ask yourself:

What is slow in my business? What can I outsource or automate to speed up?
What is bumpy in my business (hierarchy, bureaucracy, regulation)? How can I be flatter?
What is expensive in my business? How can I reduce the cost to my customer?

Almost 50% of Australian executives expect the biggest change to their job and business will come from outside their industry. (Accenture Technology Vision report).

Disruption by Design outlines how to scan the environment to consider the impact of these external factors:

Use the P.E.S.T.L.E. acronym: Political, Environmental, Social, Technological, Legal, Economic.

So every time you hear about a new technology or trend, ask yourself:
  • How could this affect me? (P.E.S.T.L.E. positive & negative)
  • How could this affect my organisation? (P.E.S.T.L.E. positive & negative)
  • How could this affect my industry? (P.E.S.T.L.E. positive & negative)

Be careful about how you make decisions, he says. Don’t limit yourself to two choices – yes or no, right or wrong. Consider other choices too. Question yourself about how you are making your choices.

Curiously, customers often choose the most creative ideas. (Mueller, Lowenstein & Deal)
Managers often choose the most feasible & least creative ideas.

So, instead of starting with HOW, start with WHY. Assess each idea purely on merit.  That way, your goal aligns more closely with the wishes of the customer, writes Perera in Disruption by Design.

Here are 10 great tips to face disruption with confidence: 
  1. Work on your personal brand. 
  2. Be a lifelong learner. You must keep learning from trusted sources. Go deeper, wider, further.
  3. Don’t just have authority, be the “go to” authority. People expect it.
  4. To do that, you must share your expertise.
  5. Unlearn and relearn knowledge
  6. Lean in and learn from younger people and their use of technology
  7. Reach out and build a wider network
  8. Share what you learn widely to build credibility
  9. Stand out with a personal brand that defines you.
  10. Use your learning to Filter, Extend and Share the most valuable information to your network.

View incidents in your professional life as learning opportunities, and share them.
To have an idea worth sharing, answer these 3 questions:
  • What happened? (Story and data)
  • What’s the point?
  • What’s next? (Reflect on the idea and offer practical solutions)

To maximise the input of your team:

Try reverse mentoring. Ask junior staff to mentor senior staff. It’s a way to tap into perspective rather than experience.
Try sharp thinking: Gather a diverse group of thinkers and give them a clear focus…the diversity generates more ideas, and the focus means you narrow and sharpen them towards specific goals.
Let people act independently. Trust them to use their judgement when decision to follow or deviate from guidelines.

The old way to deal with customers:

Marketing campaigns
Sales meetings
Feedback surveys
Customer support
Sales transactions

The new way to deal with customers:

Customers are involved in the design stage of product development
Customers invite the prospects to sample the experience of your product
Customers don’t just buy the product, they help create it.
Customers help each with sales support in forums
Customers give feedback early, not just a review after the fact.

See also How TED Talk's remarkable Seth Godin turns Customers into Fans

Jim Collins on the role of luck: 

In Great by Choice, business guru Jim Collins studied companies that soared above others, experiencing exponential growth (10x the impact or output of peers).

He posed three questions:
  • Is luck a common or rare element in the histories of the 10X and comparison cases?
  • What role, if any, does luck play in explaining the divergent trajectories of 10X and comparison cases?
  • What can leaders do about luck to help them build great companies on a 10X journey?
Collins concluded: “Across all the research we’ve conducted for this book and our previous books regarding what makes companies great (which has involved investigating the histories of 75 major corporations), we’ve never found a single instance of sustained performance due simply to pure luck.”

Yes, they had some lucky breaks, but they made more of their luck than others.

“The critical question is not, 'Will you get luck', but 'What will you do with the luck that you get'?” Jim Collins asks.

See also Brené Brown Top Tip: Assume Others are Doing the Best They Can 

Perhaps the events of 2020 will accelerate already booming technology innovation across financial services, healthcare, consulting, politics, real estate, law, project management, education, retail, mechanics, charities and many other industries.

Digital transformation is putting the air under the wings of start-ups, and reinvigorating and reinventing established businesses.

But new technology is already separating out winners and losers, as agile eagles embrace the unknown and soar, punishing the ostriches hiding in the familiar but useless piles of sand left in their wake.  

Do you choose to be the eagle or the ostrich?

Salim Ismail, co-founder of Singularity University and author of Exponential Organisations, says those enterprises that don’t jump aboard soon will be left on the ash heap of history, joining Iridium, Kodak, Polaroid, Philco, Blockbuster, and a host of other once-great, industry-dominant corporations unable to adapt to rapid change.

His co-founder Peter Diamandis, makes this plea to company leaders:

“You must evolve your company – you are either disrupting yourself or someone else is – sitting still equals death.”

In Exponential Organisations, there are four levels of change listed:  

Level 1:  New technology that sits on top of computing (networks/sensors, Artificial Intelligence, robotics, digital manufacturing, synthetic biology)

Level 2: The intersection of these technologies, for example AI and 3D printing that will let you “print your thoughts”

Level 3: The number of digitally connected people is around 5 billion in 2020. What will they build?

Level 4: Innovation cycles on new products will go from years to months to weeks. How will global governance systems keep up? How will corporations manage?

You can see yourself as lucky, buy a ticket and get aboard.

Or, you can find a good spade and dig that hole for your head.