An engineer I know told me about a time when he was called in as a consultant to help a customer improve their manufacturing processes.
He analyzed their operation top to bottom and met with them about his findings.
The customer was pleased to learn they could improve efficiency and cut costs. Adding money to their bottom line meant they made a good decision hiring my friend as a consultant.
But before ending the conversation, my friend—concerned for the future of this customer—leaned in and said:
“You do know cassette tapes are going away, right?”
You see this customer was concerned about cutting costs to make a product that soon no one would want. When was the last time you played a cassette tape?
I happened to find an old cassette tape lying around my house and it reminded me of this story. Also, I feel it illustrates another phenomenon in the business world that I’ve encountered during my career. And that’s the phenomenon of what businesses do when things around them change.
You see, I’ve held several different jobs. Many of those job transitions were involuntary because of layoffs, downsizing, reduction in force—all because of changes in the marketplace. So as I progressed in my career I became curious why companies have to downsize. Why are companies seemingly unprepared to respond to change?
I gained some perspective on one job where I worked for a high-tech company. At the time they were about a half-billion-dollar-a-year company.
But in order to keep their competitive edge, one of their strategies was to investigate and invest in what they called “disruptive innovation”. Up until that point, I had never heard that term. I had an idea what “innovation” meant. But I wasn’t sure what was meant by “disruptive.”
I asked an executive to help me understand it better.
He explained it to me as an innovation that doesn’t just provide incremental improvement, but disrupts the way business is done in one or more related industries.
What immediately came to my mind was the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?”
Way before Tesla Motors, electric cars had a brief run in the United States. The documentary suggested that the dominant players in the oil and gas and automotive industries used their power to stop the electric car—a potentially disruptive innovation— from threatening their market share.
Ultimately the electric car was pushed out of the marketplace and effectively “killed”—at least for the time being.
I understood that any innovation that threatened to disrupt an industry would likely be met with resistance from the larger players who control that industry. So my next question was, “why invest in something that industry giants are likely to oppose?”
The next thing the executive told me caught my attention. He said”
“If an idea is disruptive enough, ‘they’ won’t have a choice.”
I liked the sound of that. That sounded to me like with disruptive innovation you could change the world. And that appealed to me.
From that point on, I really wanted to find and be a part of something truly disruptive.
You see, I was fed up with doing work that didn’t matter. I wanted to try doing something that made a difference.
I once watched 5 years of my life get flushed because the project I had been working on got scrapped. I put my best work into it and it never saw the light of day. It would never help anybody.
It was disheartening for me and my coworkers.
A manager thought he could cheer us up by reminding us that before being cancelled, the project paid a lot of people’s mortgages.
But if all I wanted to do was pay my mortgage, I could have knocked people over the head and robbed them for 5 years.
That manager was tone deaf to the fact that people want more out of work than just paying bills. In fact work serves three purposes:
- Survive – like paying bills and stuff
- Save – so you have something for the future when you can no longer work
- Serve – somebody else besides you is better off because of what you do
I was doing fine in the “Survive” and “Save” departments, but “Serve” was totally lacking.
And that’s what made disruptive innovation seem so attractive to me. It makes a difference and no one can stop it—even if they try.
The trick is not to be left behind.
So when I found that cassette tape in my house, it reminded me how important it is to keep an eye out for the next disruptive innovation. That cassette tape manufacturer certainly wasn’t prepared. When disruption happens, you can’t stop it. You have to learn to adapt to it or risk obsolescence.
Also, if you want to have a real impact on the world, it helps to be on the side of disruptive innovation. Even the corporate giants who want to protect the status quo won’t be able to stop you.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get connected with people who are doing really big things—disruptive things—in multiple industries. I am not at liberty in a public setting like this to give any details, but I am allowed to share individually.
If you’ve ever felt what you’re doing is not making a difference or you wonder “what’s the point” or “why does it matter” then this is something that will very likely excite you. I urge you to find out about this disruption before it hits the marketplace. Just follow this link and I will send details to you privately via Facebook Messenger.