Disruptive Technology and How to Compete for the Future


Disruptive technology is the bearer of tremendous opportunity and equally a harbinger of obsolescence. Technology’s impact on society and business is substantial, if not underestimated. As technology continues to become part of everyday life, it becomes disruptive in how people communicate, work, and connect. The evolution of society and technology happens with or without adaptation or understanding. And, it’s contributing to a very real phenomenon of Digital Darwinism, a situation where organizations are faced with a need to adapt to markets and customer behavior or risk a loss in favor, competitive advantage or worse, irrelevance.

To keep up is a perpetual investment as innovation is constant and it’s only increasing. We are becoming a culture rife with ingenuity. Entrepreneurialism is contagious. The startup way, or the “hacker life” is introducing new mindsets and models and it inspiring all who taste it to code, design, build, invest, and take risks. Even President Obama is calling for attention and support for startups to revive America’s fragile economy. And this is just the beginning. Innovation is a global movement and it’s gaining momentum.

This is a time to take a step back, recognize where we are and where we need to be, examine our strategies and current initiatives, review our investments and opportunities, and consider new areas for change or new pursuits.

The truth is that innovation works for and against us and investing in it with purpose and design is our responsibility. Whether you’re an entrepreneur leading the latest or the next hot startup, a business executive seeking solutions or a competitive edge, a decision maker or a champion for change in any industry, this is the time to see through the chaos of features, trends, IPOs, investments, ballooning valuations, et al. to clear a path for meaningful progress.

Part of the challenge is knowing when to recognize opportunities. While it’s easy to get caught up in the hype, there is a gap that exists between current needs, evolving pains, and the myriad of solutions hitting desktops, smartphones, tablets and digital appliances every day. The problem is that many organizations aren’t designed to be adaptive. They’re designed to optimize efficiencies and processes. But, times have changed and disruptive technology isn’t as easy to recognize nor capitalize on without a greater mission and purpose or an infrastructure to identify trends, experiment, learn, and scale.

For example, businesses around the world are jumping on Facebook and Twitter as each have demonstrated an ability to disrupt the standard fair in how connected consumers communicate, discover, and share. Yet, studying how they attempt to engage with customers reveals that they’re missing an opportunity to improve experiences and overall business opportunities. And, if we look at how organizations experiment with emerging platforms such as Instagram, Foursquare, Google+, Klout, and Pinterest, we’re left to wonder whether a divide and conquer strategy really isn’t just another guise where businesses become a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Disruptive technology requires much more than visibility and activity. To master these platforms requires presence and a commitment to steer thoughtful activity within value networks to the benefit of your organization as well as the experiences of those who define it.

For the purpose of this article, let’s define disruptive technology as the innovations that emerge without expectation to introduce a new market and value network at the expense of an existing market and value network. The reason this is an important discussion right now is that many organizations are investing in emerging technology for customer engagement, metrics, marketing and advertising, internal collaboration and education, HR, product develop, etc., without the clearest picture into overall direction, long term strategy, or even a deep understanding of the expectations and obstacles that exist among customers and employees.

To compete for the future, requires a full assessment of how some of the biggest trends in technology impact your business or markets today and how they will influence behavior in the future. While this list may alter, expand or contract based on your industry, the image below should provide a glimpse of just how expansive the landscape is, and while not every technology is affecting the bottom line today, elements are beginning to change the way decisions are made and how people work with one another. At the very least, the golden triangle of cloud, mobile, and social provides a hub to begin the evaluation of both technology and human behavior.

To chart a new course toward relevance, here are five initial steps to consider…

1. Assume that there is a surplus of confusion among users and decision makers within organizations and customers on which technology is trending versus technology that is showing signs of becoming or already is disruptive. Discovering the difference and prioritizing what’s important is critical.

2. Understand that the role of CMO and CIO is becoming closer than ever before. With marketing investing a significant percentage of the overall technology budget now and over time, the “I” in CIO may need to represent innovation to help lead more informed decisions from the inside.

3. Task an existing organization, external partner or develop a new task force to evaluate technology to improve the infrastructure of how your business works, cultivates relationships with customers, employees, and stakeholders, designs better products and services, and demonstrates competitive advantages.

4. Deploy this team to measure technology against a myriad of factors that are important to your business and assess which technologies are worthy of implementation, financial investment, acquisition or experimentation.

5. Re-align the team against a renewed vision, mission and purpose and train employees to use these technologies to achieve desired objectives at the enterprise, LoB, and functional levels…to meet customer and employee expectations and steer delightful experiences.

These are the times when getting caught up in technology, value, and new technology is often mistaken for innovation that inflates the dreaded bubble. What we don’t need is to invest in the wrong technologies simply because posts are constantly written with the “top 10″ ways to grow our business with said platform. While we can watch them grow, the real focus should be on the development of a formal system that measures impact and prioritizes resources around it accordingly.

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  • Ian Greenleigh

    I love this. Somewhere in there is the idea that companies cannot lead with every disruptive technology; they will spread themselves too thin. Pick the ones that make most sense for you and make them count.

  • Dara Bell

    Hi Brian,

                         I love this too. Facebook is innovating like crazy for one reason. In any market 3 companies tend to dominate the space. Google +  is riding a Longtail of free products. Users are guaranteed! It’s Mark Zuckerburg against the world Good on him! He’s keeping the company relevant through innovating when everyone else is conservative. New Google + redesign is just re-design of Facebook for example.

    I disagree with Gary Vaynerchuk Pinterest won’t grab Middle America Zuckerberg will.   Fear Kill Businesses Dead. One must believe disruptive times call for disruptive attitudes. In Mark’s case it’ll all level out with increased revenue. For the consumer Linked In will stay as a pay-for service and the 3 big  Social Networks Facebook, Twitter and Google + will take the advertising dollars. Agree?

                                                                      Thanks

                                                                        Dara

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  • http://me.h0us3.com/ Louis House

    Excellent post! crystal clear on what being innovative is and is not, and how a company can wrap “its’ head around” making a business case for it all. Thank you!

  • Adrian Scott

    Very good piece, and right on the money for the broadcast industry currently considering its future at NAB in Las Vegas…

  • http://twitter.com/delamejodi Jodi ann Delamere

    Excellent piece. Especially agree with the comment about businesses becoming “jack of all trades and masters of none”. We need to step back, observe and go back to basics. Do one thing, do it right, get a clear handle on it AND THEN move on. 

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  • http://jacxu.com/ Jac Xu

    An awesome interpretation about the marketing, tools and channels, explaining the different functions for mobile, clouds and social.  Nowaday, technologies provides us advanced tools and more channels to reach audiences better and more targeted.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/jenni.gritti Jenni Gritti

    I love this post. I often find myself wondering where we are going with the future of social media. To agree with Jodi, I especially identify with your comment about being a jack of all trades. Cheers

  • http://www.beavershred.com/ Stan @ Paper Shredding

    You had me at the cyborg for Google+. I was a little concerned by the lack of sales lift in the impact graphic. I would think being more visible with SEO and SMM the sales would increase. However the economy does play a role so for now the sales will probably stay down. Accept for iPads, those sell like hotcakes no matter the income.

  • http://www.MikeWilliamsPro.com/ Mike Williams

    Wonderful post, the near future will be full of self driven, technology driven entrepreneurs. Keep up or get left behind. 

  • http://www.lagrangemedical.com/ Immediate Care Justice IL

    There are new ways to get attention all the time. We hired a person just to manage all the networks and keep current with the biggest technology. Pinterest and Instagram are our newest undertakings. Just found out that Facebook bought Instagram for $1billion. Should be interesting to see where this goes.

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  • http://www.jakeoliveronline.com/ marketing qualities

    I have all this social media but I reckon that Twitter is more than Facebook. Now that there are few upcoming,like Pinterest.. Google+ is more likely to be much more advanced than Facebook..What can I say,it’s Google..

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherinemonahan Catherine Monahan

    Well said!!! This part was most significant in my mind …”What we don’t need is to invest in the wrong technologies simply because posts are constantly written with the top ten way to grow our business with said platform.”

  • http://sg.linkedin.com/in/terencechan Terence Chan

    Excellent visual reminder on the importance of long-term business sustainability Brian! It’s all too easy in today’s world of ever popping shiny bright digital objects to get distracted by imagined possibilities and opportunities - the mirage effect, if you will. And thanks for sharing your insightful fluff-filter checklist.

     

  • http://twitter.com/AJPierce212 AJ Pierce

    An astutely written piece. This line sums up the takeaway
    message well: “These are the times when getting caught up in technology, value,
    and new technology is often mistaken for innovation that inflates the dreaded
    bubble.”

    Businesses far too often err in thinking that a delay in
    deploying a social media plan is more detrimental to their overall brand
    strength than taking the time to ensure that said plan is tailored to their goals
    and needs, prioritizes and harnesses their resources, and is nimble enough to
    change based on market variables, changing business needs, customer response
    levels (or lack thereof) and yes, the emergence of additional new disruptive technologies.  

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  • http://twitter.com/TheWebExecutive The Web Executive

    Haha, I love the graphic. I believe that at least investigating the path to ‘Jack of All Trades..’ has it’s value. As a Fortune 500 consultant for a great many years, my offering was that I had expanded passed my expected offerings, and it gave me the ability to guide people in ways that were unique, and IMO more valuable.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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