If you’re waiting for someone to tell you what to do next, you’re on the wrong side of innovation and disruption

If you’re waiting for someone to tell you what to do next, you’re on the wrong side of innovation and disruption

What’s the future of business, industries, jobs, markets, technology? The answer is, “it’s up to you.” See, it’s a choice. The future is inevitable, and it is disruptive. We either choose to see it for its possibilities and the role we play in defining it or we let it happen to us and we go from there. But make no mistake: Disruption is a gift you either receive or a gift you give to someone who’s ill-prepared to answer the question, WTF (what’s the future)? There’s a reason why I wrote a book called, What’s the Future… I wanted to use the acronym WTF because it’s how I, and many others, feel when attempting to materialise the future, today. It’s difficult. But it’s not impossible.

In an attempt to answer WTF?, executives and leaders from businesses across every industry around the world are flocking to Silicon Valley to take what I call the “Hollywood Homes” or “Disneyworld Tour” of innovation. Every week, eager (not necessarily wide-eyed and open-minded) executives board charter buses and embark on a multi-day “Corporate Innovation” excursion to visit the headquarters of some of the most renowned disruptors in the game, including Uber, Twitter, Facebook, Tesla, Google, Singularity University, Apple, Box, Airbnb, Oracle, Slack, and more. The hope is that these executives will drink the special water and breath the transformative air in Silicon Valley and return to magically change the future of their organisations.

Change is happening, and it is challenging. There are important questions we need to answer: How do colleagues and employees best manage change? How do we inspire people to learn and adopt new behaviours? And, in many cases, how do we help executives “get it” and take steps to mobilise people and resources to move, with new purpose and orientation?

A Prelude to Innovation…Shifting personal perspective and committing to transform ourselves before anyone else (BAE)

Transformation is personal. It starts with us, understanding that we must learn what’s new and unlearn what’s obsolete to see and do things differently. Otherwise, we learn parts of what’s new and apply it to our legacy experience and expertise and at best, we work toward iteration.
What’s the difference between iteration and innovation? Said simply, iteration is doing the same things, better. Innovation, on the other hand, is doing new things that create new value. I’m not suggesting we abandon iteration, only that we purposefully balance iteration and innovation to stoke disruption, which is doing new things that make the old things obsolete.

Innovation (and transformation) start with understanding that change, like disruption, is not something that happens overnight or with the flip of a switch. We can’t just become innovative on the spot. And disruption can’t come out of nowhere, although it may seem like it, and turn our world upside down. Change is an intentional reaction to a current state as a means of improving our position in that state over time. And, disruption is the effect of innovation or a series of innovations that play out in a butterfly effect, starting small, but trending, gaining momentum and transforming markets as it spreads.

Everything starts with us and how we choose to see or not see what’s actually happening and how it affects us.

Digital Darwinism: Taking a proactive stance against natural selection

We live in a time of “digital Darwinism”. Every day, technology accelerates, and as a result, society reacts and evolves. Over time, as capabilities advance, human aptitude and adeptness also progress. This changes our behaviours and causes our cultures and norms to shift and redirect. Left unchecked, digital Darwinism leads to disruption.

Don’t worry, this is all human. This is all about change. And that’s why all of this is so hard.

The reality is that markets are moving in new directions. When disruption comes, how most organisations operate, guided by their legacy perspectives, processes, policies, and technologies, are becoming increasingly outdated. They are not keeping up with people and technology as they evolve, and they are not in a position to effectively respond in their current state.
Digital Darwinism favours those who take action. It’s what we do about it now, not tomorrow, that counts.

There’s a new normal now

Today, digital transformation, innovation, customer and employee experience, all require updated and upgraded mindsets and perspectives to see that we are no longer our customers.

Customer and employee preferences, expectations and standards for excellence no longer align with legacy models and services. What they love, need or want to mirror the most intuitive and advanced experiences that are usually outside of our industry. Yet, we continue to benchmark ourselves against our competitors and the industry as a whole, missing human cues that can guide us on a more relevant path to change and innovation.

What people relate to and how people make decisions, and why, are also changing. Pervasive internet, mobile devices, apps/services and the slew of next-gen technologies to follow are reprogramming how we think and operate. We are literally reprogramming our brains every time we connect to the grid. The apps we use are conditioning us to believe we are at the centre of our own universe. The on-demand services we have access to now are teaching us that we can have what we want when we want. We activate neurons and emotions, and each time we experience new possibilities and learn new capabilities. What we valued yesterday is…yesterday’s standard.

With each voice command, swipe, pinch, tap, or immersion into alternate realities, our centers of reference move further away from where they were yesterday, the day before, the day before that and so on.

Where do you think this is all going? Do you think customers and employees, your friends and family, are going to go back to the way things were? Every aspect of how a company operates is not only outdated, it’s catatonic. Not to fear though, everyone “knows the world is changing.” What are we going to do about it? Ah, that’s the billion dollar question.

The gap between how people and markets evolve and how slowly organisations react has only widened. But what is clear is that how people change and are still changing isn’t going backwards…not ever.

Executives, boards, shareholders, stakeholders, managers, anyone who continues to see the world as “they are” and not as “it is” are part of the problem, not the solution.

It’s a matter of evolution and it’s not just about natural selection or a given that just the strongest shall survive. Strong is relative. Natural selection is a bystander’s game. What was considered strong or good enough yesterday isn’t the answer for tomorrow. It’s that mentality though that’s working against the most stubborn of laggards. Yet, those standing in the way, those belittling the champions for change and discrediting the cues of disruption, don’t see themselves as the problem and it’s unlikely that this will change…without you. It’s not their fault though. They’ve been groomed to work, execute and report to yesterday’s standards of success. They just don’t live the same life as those who are on the front lines of digital Darwinism.

You are the Face of Change: How you play a role in leading innovation and transformation

Not everyone is Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Certainly, I’m not. While every day, those with ideas and passion take risks to bring their vision to life, everyone else needn’t be stuck waiting or hoping someone will come and save the day. That’s the thing about heroes. They can rise up from anywhere at anytime to lead change and save the day. Each of us can innovate and transform, even in the smallest of settings or ways.

Today’s innovators are portrayed as larger than life by media and society. Everyone points to their achievements, and also their periodical failures, as testament to why it’s both risky, but also awesome, to change the world. These icons instill hope in the masses and inspire a select few to follow in their footsteps.

Innovation isn’t just for the elite or the fearless. It’s open to everyone with ideas, those who feel suffocated by mediocrity or the lack of creativity, anyone who is tired of not being heard, as well as those who believe things can be better or different.
True innovation begins with perspective and action, the ability to see what others cannot and do what others will not. Innovation isn’t in our DNA or in the water or air in Silicon Valley. It’s learned and strengthened through practice.

Innovation is a mindset that ultimately becomes a way of life and work.

Those who really believe in bringing about change or creating new opportunities don’t really care. They’re just trying to find answers, validate their thinking, align with like-minded people, and learn how to change the world, or at least, their world.

This is why you’re more important than you may know. You are a change agent. Surviving and thriving digital Darwinism is intentional and by design. That starts with understanding what’s at the heart of all of this change. Technology, society, people, behaviors, aspirations, are tell-tale signs of what’s happening, what’s to come and why. The human side of all of this is the story that must be shared to help bring colleagues, people, together. No one wants to be told to change or innovate. They have to come to that conclusion on their own. And, there’s nothing like human stories to help someone see things differently.

What we do about moving forward is built upon a series of conscious choices and the actions we take to bring them to life.

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to point out what’s right in front of us to help us see things in a new light.

Our world is both threatened and invigorated by digital Darwinism. In the face of “Future Shock,” ignorance, self-doubt and fear, someone needs to lead the way and open new doors to advancement for themselves and those around them…no matter how small.   The world needs heroes, especially those who do not yet realise that their impending demonstration of courage, actions and guidance will positively impact everything around them.

If you’re waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you’re on the wrong side of innovation and disruption.

Brian Solis photo

As Principal Analyst and futurist at Altimeter, I study disruptive technology and its impact on business and society. In my reports, articles and books, I humanise technology and its impact on business and society to help executives gain new perspectives and insights. My research explores digital transformation, customer experience and culture 2.0 and "the future of" industries, trends and behaviour.