// post...


Empowering Disruption

The story

Let’s disrupt essentialized, depersonalized Power-Point-Making, with some heart-appealing, time-consuming story telling!

When I started with Accenture 18 months ago, one of the terms that sticked with me from day 1 was the term “Disruption”. I liked it, it sounded fresh, courageous, self confident, especially coming from our CEO’s mouth, backed by his incredible energy.

More so I liked the term because it connected to my personality and deeply rooted belief that, in order to get to the truth, you need to break through barriers. This belief roots in the observation that people tend to close down, rather than open up, hiding their true hopes, fears and vulnerabilities behind a very carefully fabricated artificial self. I couldn’t help but consolidate this belief over the years.

I can now call my Project Management and international experience extensive, without fearing exaggeration. The most important success factors in large, continents-spanning programs were, in my experience, openness, inclusion, and the courage to get involved on a personal level. This attitude, when applied consequently and with patience, eventually leads to an elevated collaboration energy, close to the state of flow, unleashing true inner motivation and creativity. It leads to the excitement of Co-creating.

The more I dig into the disruption phenomenon, the more I perceive it as a mantra, a philosophy, an essential element of the NOW. I feel inspired, wanting to build on this, develop the concept. I am dreaming of joining forces with my colleagues and engaging our clients in a disruptive manner, breaking those barriers together and getting to the bottom of things, where the ingredients for true satisfaction success and purpose lie. Co-creation and mutual inspiration is the final destination, where the journey itself is as valuable as the result, the benefit being a long-lasting, fermenting relationship with the client.

During many projects I’ve worked on, it is this very manner of engagement I’m missing in action: instead of braking barriers, it’s the submission to customer’s fear-based clustering and entrenchment behaviour that bothers me. Instead of courageously, but with the appropriate modesty, challenging strategy and communication patterns Project and even Change managers all too often submit to resistance and opacity, degrading themselves into mere performers of duties.

But then, one day, it strikes me: I have to stop complaining and do something about it! The idea I was chewing on for several weeks was to designate a person in every project responsible for engaging the customer, and, why not, our own team, in a disruptive manner. I instinctively, but un-officially took this role in my last project. You know how it is, when you do something nobody asked you for, especially something that steers things up: the resistance you encounter is ten-fold. You end up in frustration and resignation. But, if this role, at the limit between program and change management, would be officially designated and properly empowered, it would bear a good chance to induce the needed customer disruption.

I am starting to design a few slides around my concept of disruption. Then I realise: it’s my concept, it’s probably quite different from John’s concept of disruption, or from Peter’s. In fact, I start realising by know, that nobody really knows what disruption is.

The more I read about it, the more I get excited, but time goes by and I’m not advancing on my presentation. My counsellor suggest that I should put out whatever I have: don’t wait for it to be perfect, be agile, he sais. I can’t do it, because the more I read, the less I have to say.

I continued reading and talking to people about it and then, one day I felt ready to put it all out.

The Meaning

According to the Cambridge Business Dictionary, Disruption is an

interruption in the usual way that a system, process, or event works.

Events have been labeled disruptive in fields like Biology, Chemistry, Psychology or Theology, to name a few. Basically, any event that appears within a given system and changes the way the system is working, can be seen as disruption.

The term had originally a negative meaning, linked to dramatic events, like natural disasters or major outages. Two concepts from the ’90 caused the adoption of the term by the business world and gave it, for the first time, a positive meaning, that of Shaking Up The Market.

The first to employ disruption as a Marketing Tool was Advertising Agency Chairman Jean-Marie Dru. He created the marketing concept of Creative Disruption, by which a break in the existing behaviour patterns of a target audience can be induced by a highly creative message.

Shortly after, the concept of Disruptive Innovation emerged, having been defined and described by Clayton Christensen, an American Academic, Business Consultant and Religious Leader. He was the first to link the term disruption to technological advancements. Innovation becomes disruptive when it creates a new market and a new customer base, eventually, disrupting an existing market and customer base. The term “eventually” is quite important in this context, because an idea, innovation, invention is only disruptive in time, when the right time arrives. For example, Netflix, or other online video platforms, where there a long time before they became disruptive. Only with the general adoption of broad band internet connection at home, the video platforms disrupted the video rental / DVB, BD market.

When, an innovative idea or product is coupled with a radically different business modell and takes advantage of a recent technological advancement, the main ingredients for disruption are present. However, disruption only takes place, when a new market is created, either by turning non-consumers into consumers, or by attracting existing, low-end market shares, usually overlooked by established incumbent businesses. When low-end market shares are acquired by the New-Comer, the incumbent business is usually pushed towards the upper-end of its market, as the following diagram shows:

Compared to it’s definition, the term Disruptive Innovation is largely mis- and overused. As the initiator of the theory puts it in the Harvard Business Review:

“Unfortunately, disruption theory is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Despite broad dissemination, the theory’s core concepts have been widely misunderstood and its basic tenets frequently misapplied. Furthermore, essential refinements in the theory over the past 20 years appear to have been overshadowed by the popularity of the initial formulation.”

Contrary to the general perception, success stories based on innovation, as for example Uber, or Google, do not qualify, as Disruptive Innovation, mainly because they have not created new markets.

While decision-makers increasingly fail to correctly qualify evolutions in a shifting market their coping and development strategies may be at risk.

Disruption is important due to its characteristics

So what makes disruption so important that, even though the concept is vaguely understood, everybody talks about it, eroding the idea? To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at the 2 main types of disruption and their characteristics:

Pasted Graphic 6.png
Source: Accenture

While the second type of disruption, gives the incumbent business some time to react, the Big Bang disruption is unstoppable

Pasted Graphic 7.png
Source: Accenture

No matter how well one understands the modell of Disruptive Innovation, how precise the market is monitored, how flexible and creative the workforce is, you can’t beat Big Bang Disruption. However sophisticated disruption coping strategies may have been in place at Navigation Systems producers like TomTom, Garmin, and Magellan, they didn’t stand a chance when free, self updating and collaborative navigation systems came pre-installed on our smartphones.

The disruption here hasn’t come from competitors in the same industry or even from companies with a remotely similar business model. Nor did the new technology enter at the bottom of a mature market and then follow a carefully planned march through larger customer segments. Users made the switch in a matter of weeks. And it wasn’t just the least profitable or “underserved” customers who were lured away. Consumers in every segment switched simultaneously.

That kind of innovation changes the rules. We’re accustomed to seeing mature products wiped out by new technologies and to ever-shorter product life cycles. But now entire product lines—whole markets—are being created or destroyed overnight. Disrupters can come out of nowhere and instantly be everywhere. Once launched, such disruption is hard to fight.

Disruptor vs. Disruptee

The one is generating the Disruption wave, the other one is trying to cope. What makes the two role out?

Coping Strategies and their flaws

Internal and external consultant are in a fierce contest of developing and bringing to the client a number of coping strategies. These strategies are built around some common ideas:

  • Harvest, promote and accelerate innovation and creativity within your company
  • Explore New Business Modells
  • Adress your low-end market customers
  • Look out for new ideas and start-ups and acquire them before they can harm you
  • Be agile, allow failure, recover fast
  • Engage with full power on the Digital Transformation journey.

Knowing that you have to survive in a market as volatile and unpredictable, waking up every day, well knowing that your products and services can be made obsolete in a matter of weeks by a comet suddenly making appearance out of deep space, despite all coping strategies, is a totally new game.

Let’s face it, disruptive ideas and business models are here for more than 20 years and they are rapidly picking up pace. So are coping strategies. Still, we, the forwarding-thinking, courageous and innovative consultants of this world are telling our clients with conviction:

“Here are the coping strategies you must implement them to stay alive”,

while also stating about disruption, in its most aggressive form:

“You can’t see it coming”

“You can’t beat it”

“You can’t stop it”

In other words, we are not telling our customers that the coping strategies we propose can only address a part of what’s coming for them and their business, the most benign part, in fact. What are the decision makers of this world left with, besides sheer fear, this silent, gut-felt pressure of knowing that, no matter what they do, any coming day they can be put out of business. Fear is always a debilitating feeling, which needs to be addressed before any concrete action plan.

How do we address this? I think we don’t and I believe we should, because herein lies the true key for decision makers and businesses to really turn the page and the ones riding the wave of disruption, instead of being pulled by it, eventually pulled under.

To address fear, we need to identify the objects towards which this fear is directed. This should be the first question that we, as consultants should ask decision makers:

“What are you afraid of?”

The 5 Whys applied to fear

Developed by the Japanese inventor Sakichi Toyoda, this simple method for getting to the root of things was first employed by Toyota Motors for the evolution of its production methodologies.

Let’s imagine performing this exercise with a decision maker from an established company that we have the opportunity to advise.

Predication: I fear disruption.

1. Why? – It could wipe out my business in short time.

2. Why? – I cannot prevent Disruptive Innovation from hurting my business.

3. Why? – I can’t see it coming I can’t react fast enough when it’s here.

4. Why? – There are limits to my capacity to foresee, react and change.

5. Why? – Because I believe in those limits.

The last one is pretty tricky, I guess one would need more than 5 questions to get to this answer, but it’s worth asking them and eventually get there. Believing in limits to what you can achieve, prevents you from challenging those very limits. This goes for persons, groups of persons and businesses alike. Not setting any boundaries, thinking limitless is what makes Disruptive Innovation fly in the first place. This attitude is the biggest strength of start-ups managing to bring these ideas to the market in no time, while being, in the same time, the most important weakness of established business leaders.

In fact, by proposing all these coping strategies and turning-into-the-new-methods, we are putting our customers in the position to adopt instead of inventing, to copy instead of creating, to cope, instead of being leaders of the pack. We are turning them into mere apprentices in the co-creation process.

Yes, we are delivering the methods and tools that are prerequisites on the path of making businesses future-proof, but we are not addressing the sine-qua-non condition for change, which is overcoming fear and discarding beliefs in artificial limits?

The common deficiency of all coping strategies is leaving the customer in a passive, receiving position, instead of pushing him into a pro-active, taking-the-chance position. Instead of helping business leaders to ride the wave with excitement, we are merely showing them how to not be left behind.

Understanding our customers and their fears and help turn them into dreams, should be at the heart of our approach.

Resistance is always personal

On my last project, program managers and senior consultants were struggling to agree on a quite complex program organisation. I was engaged in laborious discussions on the best way to represent this 3-dimensional org chart, that had to include business units, domains, decision boards and management structures following varying goals and acting at very different paces. It was the third or fourth iteration of meetings on this topic, any idea presented by one of the participants was instantly dismantled by at least one of the others. We where blocked in a rigid attitude, characterised by the fact that decision makers didn’t have adequate solutions, but didn’t want anybody else to be the first to find the best solution. It was a sunny day, I felt replenished by positive energy, but couldn’t bring up the patience to listen to the discussion anymore. One of the senior consultants was struggling to connect two boxes on the org chart with a solid or a dotted line. Was the line supposed to have an arrow, showing the direction of reporting? But then, it would not make sense to have it dotted, right?

Here we are, on a sunny day, four people in a room spending – let’s make a quick computing – an average of 52 € every single minute, talking about dots or no dots on a line. I am disconnecting from the discussion, knowing that I did already bring in everything I had on that topic. I started sensing the bodily energy of the guy in front of the flip-chart. He was big, bold, massive and strong, without being fat. His energy was one of goodnesses and understanding towards others, less towards himself. I couldn’t sense past a strong notion of dullness and inertness emerging from his body, like his mind would need to issue internally a set of clear instructions, accompanied by a workflow description, for him to be able to move a limb. It was like he was fighting the beautiful day outside. I was feeling the strong urge to interrupt the ongoing discussion to ask him about his love life, about a girlfriend he might have and how they may treat each other. I obviously had to refrain from that, while riding that authentic impulse and find something less offending to ask. I summoned my courage and interrupted everybody by saying something like: these boxes represent persons and it’s not meaningful to debate whether we connect them with a solid or dotted line, before knowing how they would naturally relate to each other, what their natural dominance relationships and individual goals were. Addressing the blockage, I suggested to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a walk towards the neighbouring company building, while contemplating our task from a different perspective. I tried convincing my audience that we could not shape the organisation-chart without briefly analysing the stakeholder interaction first, thus combining both methods in a disruptive way: organisation and stakeholder analysis.

The disruption was successful, I could see how annoyed everybody was by my interruption. They didn’t jump up, hurrying out of the building, as I suggested, but the discussion about the dotted or solid line couldn’t be resumed. Concentration was lost, but the blockage was lifted.

During the following days, I could see more people talking to each other, the org-chart, the precise representation of it, didn’t seam so important anymore. We managed to draw a simplified, temporary version in 1/2 hours, acknowledging that this was all we needed. Instead of insisting on a perfect org-chart, more and more of the core team left their safe places and started talking to the people behind the boxes. You could feel the wheels of a rusty engine slowly starting to move.There was some squeaking in the beginning, but eventually you could feel the Titanic picking up pace.

The Disruption Agent

Disrupting the client means changing his ways in a disruptive manner. Let’s recall the definition of disruption: interruption in the usual way that a system, process, or event works. So, before we can bring in radical new ways, we need to perturtbate, challenge and disturb the old ways.

All the research I have done so far on the topic has led me to the conclusion that Disruption, while being a phenomenon that can be described through its effects is, in essence, an attitude. One that is built around the ability to challenge the status quo in every possible way and think limitless.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this attitude can be taught in class, but it can be transferred through inspiration. To be able to push our customer out of his comfort zone, enabling him to overcome his fears, to self-challenge and think limitless, we need to inspire him by subtly taking him by the hand on a personal level. It is not enough to tell him what to do, we need to also tell him how to be. To be able to do so, we have to understand his fears, help him define his dreams and challenge his belief in his own limits. Fears are an important asset to know and explore, because any fear has an associated dream. Finally, the only way by which a person can be empowered is by enabling it to follow his or her dreams.

Among us, not many are ready to bring up the necessary level of openness and involvement for achieving this, that’s why we need to identify and promote the ones that are ready to do so and ask them to disrupt ourselves and the client in the same time. Only by setting an example of self-challenging and limitless thinking, we can inspire our customer.

We need to develop a network of such agents, we could call them pioneers or confidence ambassadors, or empowering disrupteurs, whatever serves the purpose to establish a self-challenging culture and bring it to the market. If we do it internally, in a consistent way and demonstrate the benefits, the customers will buy it. There are no limits to the profit an agent of limitless thinking can generate.

The Vision

I think our goal, in relation to the customer, is to help him to reach the next level, a level he cannot reach by himself. Wether we are calling it Customer Delight, or its more daring version, Customer Enlight(ment), or we are naming it “the identification and pursuit of true purpose”, or any other appealing way, it all comes down to unleashing potential, finding purpose, which in its purest form actually is love and generate happiness, fulfilment, delight. In order to reach the deep levels of consciousness where the ingredients for such values are formed, we need to crack the customer open by shaking him up. In a gentle way. And it’s never just one person, we need to crack all key stakeholders open, to find their longings and fears and convert them into fulfilment-generating purpose. We must refrain from selling them dreams that are not theirs, we must enable them to define and pursue their own.

Then, after putting together the subtle streams erupting from their consciousness, we must define a purposeful vision, one that adresses these stakeholders at a deep level.

Then and only then we can start thinking about goals and solutions. By doing so, we don’t only lay the premisses for fulfilling results, but we also generate a deep, long-lasting and open peer-to-peer connection to the customer.

Then, when gathering the team, we need to do the same for our own, to unleash their energies and align them to the those of the customers, thus creating the necessary alignment of stars, as a premise to make wonders come true.

The purpose-bearing vision is a living story, it evolves with the changing fears and aspirations of the stakeholders, it changes with the enlargement or downsizing of the team. It can change with every heartbeat. To make sure that the project still has a purpose-bearing aim, the cycle of shaking up to crack open, appease and restart must continue relentlessly, while we remain highly agile to absorb changes, some of which we intentionally produce.

An important risk

There is challenging for the sake of challenging, as a way to discharge personal frustration. This should be avoided by all means. Challenging, questioning and contradicting should be based on respect, compassion and the believe in a higher purpose. When speaking up, one must question his own message by 3 criteria:

– Is it true?

– Is it gentle?

– Is it useful?

The role

  • The disruption agent should be part of any complex project, at senior management level, having an escalation line to the top of the ladder (CAL, MD, Industry Lead).
  • He (or she) is the owner of the vision and path to fulfilment, thus he needs empowerment to question any decision or attitude in the project.
  • He will be the alter ego of the project lead, disagreements to be escalated to a mitigation board, formed by Leadership from within and outside the customer context.
  • Because his role will be to challenge everything, he mustn’t fear punishment for doing so, he must benefit from a sort of insurance, for the case his disruption work goes south.
  • He or she should be perceived by the team as an influencer, a visionary, a subtle alignment worker.
  • He or she should be measured by the degree of fullfilment generated for the client, as well as his own team.

The tasks and methods

  • Continuously peel the onion by applying the five why’s
  • Open up to peers and stakeholders to encourage openness,
  • Engage, observe and explore people on a deep level,
  • Engage peers in apparent meaningless activities, to disrupt dogmatic thinking,
  • Generate playful energy
  • Create confidential aspirtaion maps
  • Create confidential fear maps
  • Put those in correlation with project and organisation power maps
  • Identify the higher purpose, describe it believe in it and generate followers. Only true belief can inspire.
  • Continuously challenge limits and fear-based behaviours, decisions and strategies,
  • Make people feel they are important
  • Make people feel they are human (and childish)
  • Finally, turn the project into an aspirational quest for higher purpose.

Ways of implementation

# 1. Create a first network of peers, interested and inspired by the idea, to refine and plan the next steps

# 2. Pilot by creating the storyline and sending a disruption agent into a project, charging the client only if positive results are achieved

# 3. Grow the network and establish the role

# 4. Create the product “Empowering disruption agent”, the selling point and necessary organisational structure around it.

I challenge you!

Let’s disropt the market, by creating the first network of dirsopteurs, creating higher purpose for their clients. Please, by all means, smash my ideas down, call me a useless dreamer, but contribute, challenge, feel.

Dare to consider the growing wave of disruption as your personal rocket to higher meaning. The rest will follow.


2 Responses to “Empowering Disruption”

  1. “Disruption” has been a common term in the business literature (HBR included) for some time now – to such an extent that it became a bit overused. Of course, it is dry and lacking the energy when not spoken by a CEO 🙂
    Incremental and disruptive innovation are both valid concepts, it really depends on a handful of factors which one works best – the market, industry, organization, product… But this is what they are, concepts.
    I am reluctant to buy into any recipe that promises to turn an organization (any organization, in fact) into a “disruptor”. Pursuing disruptive innovation for the sake of disruptiveness alone won’t lead anywhere. Most organizations struggle with just being innovative, let alone such dramatic forms of innovation.
    Plus, most companies that have brought on the market anything that even remotely resembles a disruptive product are not incumbents. Incumbents are the ones that benefit the least from shaking well-established markets. Disruption contradicts predictability and steady growth, which market leaders seem to love so much.

    Posted by Adilica | November 26, 2019, 9:10 am
  2. I guess you’re right, predictability and steady growth are still major goals for Business Leaders. Nevertheless, they invest massively in innovation with the purpose of keeping up with ideas and market movements that could become disruptive for their Businesses. Some of them think of their businesses as being modern and innovative, while actually copying some nice-sounding mainstream ideas. I hate seeing so much shallow mainstream nonsense being sold, bought and advertized as innovative. For those who want more than just copying and coping, a shift in attitude is necessary. I guess the article is for them.

    Posted by Ciprian Cioiulescu | November 28, 2019, 1:16 pm

Post a comment