One of the things I love about our industry is the counterintuitive truths that make themselves evident on a regular basis. You know, the kind of things that are obscure one day, obvious the next. For thousands of years, the world believed that the sun revolved around the earth, which was, as anyone could tell you, flat as a board. Inevitably, however, that nut was cracked. We have Copernicus and Aristotle to thank for helping expose the true nature of things and give us a more perfect understanding of the universe we live in. And open up whole new frontiers of learning.
Business too creates its own truths, but like the flat earth, these truths may be anything but. And further, they have the potential to get our companies into trouble. One such truism that I’ve gleaned in industry is the fact that companies are often looking to make their operations run more smoothly through the implementation of technology. I believe this because I live it – our business is awash in complexity, and technology is required more and more to make systems easier for us to use, so we can spend more time on the business of running our business. Combining every-day search and collaboration engines to build new connections can offer immense business value previously unavailable. And the great new Microsoft Crescent data analysis and visualization technologies can help you quickly understand the stories your data and connections are telling you, so you can make better decisions and continue to improve. And our customers want to quell the tide of complexity in business too. We’ve been fortunate to work with some great customers who pay us to do what we love, and make their worlds simpler. Nevertheless, we are often paid to do the exact opposite, and I would argue that is even more important - an essential part of our secret sauce.
As with every truism, it’s important to properly examine its opposite conclusion, without flipping the bozo bit on it: to actively question and consider what is not being said, rather than what is stated explicitly. After looking at the corollary of using technology to make things easier in our business, my conclusion is that in principle, the opposite conclusion is actually much more important. We all need to be more committed to disrupting our businesses with technology, rather than just making them run more smoothly.
Why? Because if you're not constantly re-evaluating how you deliver your services to your customers, you may be in danger of becoming irrelevant. Witness the change in the music industry in the last decade. A revolution started with v1 of Napster being built in a college dorm over a weekend, and changed the way we all listen to music, culminating in a former desktop computer company becoming a dominant force in music distribution. Or how about the demise of Blockbuster, mapped alongside the rise of Netflix and content delivery over the Internet?
A little disruption maybe hitting closer to home – anyone using Kijiji or eBay instead of holding that every-other-year garage sale? I’ve had amazing success turning my junk into someone else’s treasure, with little effort and in under a few hours. Further - are you still driving over to your city’s Autotrader with a picture of your car to submit for publication in their magazine? Of course not. You also may be young enough that reading that last sentence confuses you, and you can’t imagine actually having to travel somewhere to sell something. We used to. I’m in my early 40’s, and it wasn’t that long ago.
There’s a lot to be said for simplicity in business – we all want to get settled in, comfortable around our latest business improvements and, presumably, get more done. But the only way to retain that comfort is to ensure that you get comfortable being uncomfortable - that we remain an agent of change in our environment, and understand that a little revolution may be better for our organizations than making things incrementally easier. Maybe not all the time, and certainly not every time. But if not some of the time, we’re treading the path to obsolescence. Disruption is becoming one of the requirements for business success. And if we're not doing it, just like Blockbuster, we will be replaced by someone who is.