Disrupt – or be disrupted
Another year and another graduation season is upon us. Watching the newly graduates celebrating the start of their new chapters has rekindled the enthusiasm and the eagerness to make a difference and leave an imprint in the world, a feeling that at times seems like a distant past.
Knowing it all
If you have spent time observing young children, you’d be amazed at how they are able to entertain themselves with seemingly ordinary things, such as a cup, a fork, or a cap of a camera lens. They inspect them closely inside out and get amused when they drop them on the floor (i.e. mastering the first lesson in the laws of physics). Somewhere along the way as we get older, we start to lose that sense of curiosity. Busy lives take over and things become routine. We look but we don’t see. We hear but we don’t listen. We gloss over details. We stop trying to figure out how things work because we are either too busy to be bothered or we know it all.
Do you still remember the first day of your new job? The day when you started with a fresh perspective and everything seemed interesting. You wanted to meet new colleagues and you were eager to understand how different parts and pieces worked together. You wanted to understand the mission and get things done. You wanted to make a difference. In other words, you cared.
As time passes by, we begin to change. Things becomes “status quo” and we turn complacent. Check the box: been there, done that. Clock in; clock out. Don’t rock the boat, they say.
Getting too comfortable
As we settle into our routine and our bubble, the world changes around us. Technology has drastically reshaped the way we live our lives. The amount of time it takes for consumers to adopt new technology has been greatly reduced. No longer are we content with waiting in line during business hours for a bank teller to process a check for us; we can now do so on our mobile devices whenever we like. No longer do we want to stand in the street and flag down a cab; we can now request a ride on-demand via our mobile apps. Transportation is no longer just about getting from point A to point B; consumers demand a convenient and cost effective solution with a pleasant experience end-to-end.
Incumbents have been disrupted while sleeping behind the wheels. They have become so comfortable with the world around them that when they finally woke up, they cried foul.
In the case of ride sharing, not only have the lives and consumer experience been transformed, the livelihood of the providers (i.e. drivers) has also been impacted. The so-called gig economy workers now have more flexibility and options to choose when they work and where they work.
And this has been made possible by technology advancement as well as the dare to challenge status quo of the taxi industry.
The graph below is a few years old. Nevertheless, it fascinates me every time I look at it.
The ripple effect
Some people lament the disruption caused by the startups. But what they fail to recognize is, a lot of these entrepreneurs are simply looking at a known problem set with fresh eyes, the same way children do when they see an object for the first time, the same way we do on the first day of our new job.
To thrive, organizations must keep a pulse on their customers and actively find new ways to meet their evolving needs. We must stay curious.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that it is incredibly hard for big companies to be innovative especially if they have existing business they need to maintain and shareholders to respond to; hence the classic Innovator’s Dilemma. But that in itself makes it more important for businesses to be adaptive to change so that they can properly serve their customers, whose needs are also changing. We cannot expect consumers to be content with the same products when the way they live their lives have changed. Regardless of the business you are in, so long as you are touching a consumer, they will also likely measure their experience with you against the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple. You will find that you are no longer competing within the traditional boundaries of your industry. Technology has bridged the communities and ecosystems, and consumers demand the same seamless and delightful experience that they have come to expect in the digital world.
General Electric is an excellent example of how a 125-year-old manufacturing company transforms itself into a modern digital organization. GE counts Thomas Edison as one of its co-founders and it is one of the original twelve Dow Industrials. With over 330,000 employees and a market cap of over $250 billion, reinvention is daunting to say the least. But on the flip side, the risk of not doing anything is far greater.
Drawing the parallel on a personal level
In recent years, we have been experiencing a considerable increase in life expectancy around the world. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), in just a few years, life expectancy will break 90, starting with South Korean women. For the U.S., by 2030, women are expected to live an average of 83.3 years, and men are expected to live until 79.5 years old.
With longevity, it is expected that we will be working longer for financial and personal fulfillment reasons. Drawing the parallel from earlier, it is now more important than ever to keep reinventing and improving ourselves. The education and skill sets acquired early on during our school years would likely become obsolete at some point in our careers. The speed of technological progress has drastically impacted the way we work and what is required to succeed. Look no further than the prevalence of mobile technologies and the roles they play in our work lives nowadays compared to 15-20 years ago.
In the latest Global Investor Survey conducted by PwC, 85% of investment professionals expect automation and other technologies to reduce headcount in the companies they follow. To stay relevant and to keep up with the pace of change, we must adapt and reinvent ourselves.
Change is a constant
Cliché but true. And this applies to all of us, whether you are a founder or corporate citizen. Rather than fight the change, I encourage you find the courage to step outside of your comfort zone and dare try something different. First step is always the hardest, so start with a realistic goal and celebrate small success. Add a short exercise routine in the morning to kick start your day and seek new inspirations. Sign up for a webinar or an online course to get acquainted to a new topic of interest. It is never too late to learn.
As Steve Jobs once said: “People with passion can change the world for the better.” Find yours and don’t stop believing. Muster the strength and reinvent yourself. Work has to be more than a means to an end.
Very rarely would we embark on a life journey knowing exactly where we would end up. You might be pleasantly surprised at what and who you find along the way.