People are quicker to adapt to the use of technology than business. This trend has been fairly steady for a number of years. Research by Deloitte Center for the Edge in 2011 found that it's connected individuals, not companies, that are harnessing flows and have more power because of it.
We have access to information from more trusted sources to evaluate choices based on data and facts rather than claims. It's never been easier to learn and expand our capacity for creative ideas through an open mind. The most successful and smartest people — Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Marie Curie, Brian Eno to name a few — are constant and deliberate learners.
A judicious use of technology is to serve our aspirations and needs so we can make progress on meaningful work. Technology becomes disruptive when it becomes the focus rather than the means, and along with it a time suck leading to unproductive behaviors. In this sense, meetings are technology.
We make the most progress when we have a higher degree of control over our work. It's important to understand how to measure trade offs by measuring the cost of using resources on one thing rather than another and knowing the impact.
What makes a technology disruptive to business is a series of misunderstandings about where to apply focus. We could summarize the short list below with a powerful one-liner, “ego is the enemy,” but it's worth considering the difference we could create by shifting focus.
Here's a list of things I've been thinking about for the past six years:
1. Lead vs. cheerlead ― how many times do we copy the same concept over and over, or look at short term payoffs when the opportunities are on the making better promises side of the conversation?
2. Add to the business DNA ― nothing dies, not media companies, not blogging, not marketing, not PR… they just need to change based upon changing habits, taste, and evolving culture. It's all good, there are plenty of very smart people who can and should collaborate across agencies and corporate departments (see #4).
3. Don't just iterate, innovate ― what kinds of great challenges can we help solve with creativity and ingenuity and, most of all, listening to customers. I've written about finding creative new ways to go to the movies and reinventing a venerable brand like Sears.
4. B2B, B2C… it's all about people not Ego2C ― buyers are people, groups are people. When organizations are able to move beyond 'not invented here' stuff they make the most progress.
5. Users don't care ― people care and increasingly self-organize into communities to share learning and practices for people who want to do better, more, and share what they do. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, has become to lead our own transformation.
6. Death is a stage of life we don't talk about ― but we're hardly prepared for it when a brand dies. In an article about the death of DuPont Joe di Stefano reports on a conversation with Abraham Lenoff, chemical engineering professor at the University of Delaware:
“It takes an enormous effort and a lot of time and a large infrastructure, especially human infrastructure, to create value in a large company like DuPont. The financial community doesn't know how to do that. Hedge-fund managers know how to extract value from a company, and leave an empty shell, so they can build their houses in the Hamptons.
DuPont had one of the premier engineering units anywhere in the world. They knew the principles and how to apply them. Without people like that you can't develop, design, and start up plants. It's an enormous loss to science and engineering.”
Is the reality we create connected with business goals and making better promises?
7. The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward open ― organizations can learn from entrepreneurs how to build community, internally and with external groups like customers and partners.
8. Acknowledge reality ― don't bend to hype. It's better to start from where we are. The Maori of New Zealand have an expression "kia kaha", it means to "stand strong". When the winds of opinion blow, absorb it, understand it and make your own mind up to create your reality. If it is to bend, bend. Hype makes expectations hard to live up to. Keep your promises so you can deliver better ones. Start where you can/want to and build from there. Cathedrals, not (ivory) towers.
9. Don't kill [insert archenemy] ― organizations that partner with opposites and with industries that are changing accelerate their learning curve. Too much focus on competitors is also a distraction from core competence.
10. Data portability rather than readability ― Big Data has become a new fashion, and a crutch. We're drowning in data and are short on insights. Because emotion is what drives behavior. Emotional connection doesn't get measured by extracting yet more data, but by asking the right questions. Insights we can turn into action.
Where we apply focus makes a difference on impact. Self-interest can go hand-in-hand with caring for others. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835, “self interest rightly understood is the way of evaluating choices.” The framework applies equally to corporations as it does people.