Dancing with Disruption Newsletter: February 2017

Disrupted Elephants and Incoming Global Shockwaves

News went viral on August 12, 2016 about an Asian elephant miraculously rescued from floodwaters in northern Bangladesh. The four-ton female was separated from her herd in Northeast India by massive flooding in late June, and had been carried 620 miles down various rivers and tributaries since.

    Asian Elephant being rescued by sympathetic villagers.

Asian Elephant being rescued by sympathetic villagers.

Imagine the power of floodwaters to knock a large pachyderm off its feet and make it impossible to reestablish sure footing over a two-month period.

Daily browsing of global business news tell us of companies being swept off their feet by today’s turbulent, global, and disruptive business environment. The Age of Disruption is carrying some companies away with as much power and fury as the flashfloods in our elephant story.

Top leadership in these failing organizations often operate with outdated mindsets, combined with a dose of arrogance, which causes them to repeat to themselves as their world caves in, “nothing catastrophic could possibly happen to our proud enterprise.” Flash floods? Maybe the other guys, but not us!

When was the last time you and your team took quality time and engaged in a candid conversation about potential disruptions in your market and industry, the strength of your current competitive advantage, and your true ability to pivot on a dime if needed?

Our global experience suggests that it is uncommon for leadership teams to proactively schedule time to do this critical work. The urgency of hitting short-term financials seems to often override the strategic work that leaders should engage in.

As we conducted research for our book Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption, we started by searching for historical disruptions that seemed to contribute to today’s challenging 21st century business ecosystem. We identified 20 global shockwaves that occurred between 1981 and 2015 that seemed to be powerful drivers.

These global shockwaves can be slotted into five categories:

  • Technology: Information and computing technologies.
  • Management Theory: New ways to think about management, leadership, and operations.
  • Economic: Central banking actions, pricing battles, market fluctuations, and global supply and demand forces.
  • Global Competition: Exporting or importing goods on a global scale.
  • Geo-Political: Tensions between nations caused by geographic, economic, religious, or political disputes.

Global Shockwave 20

Year of Biggest Impact Global Shockwave Type of Shockwave
1981 Rise of Global Competition Global Competition
1989 Introduction of User-Friendly Hardware/Software Technology
1991 Fall of Soviet Union Geo-Political
1991 Thought Leaders Challenge Status Quo Management Theory
1993 Creation of European Union Geo-Political
1995 Reengineering of Business Processes Management Theory
1995 Interconnected Global Telecommunications Technology
1995 PC’s Become Ubiquitous Technology
1996 Commercialization of the World Wide Web Technology
1997 Advent of eCommerce Technology
1999 Downsizing and Layoffs Economic
2001 Intensification of Terrorism Geo-Political
2004 Implementation of Outsourcing/Off-Shoring Management Theory
2006 Mainstreaming of Smartphones Technology
2007 Dawn of Social Media Technology
2008 Onset of Global Recession Economic
2010 Standardization of Virtual Workforce Management Theory
2011 Introduction of Arab Spring Geo-Political
2012 Escalation of Cloud Computing Technology
2015 Collapse of Crude Oil Prices Economic

Which of these global shockwaves have impacted you and your business the most?

During a visit to Karachi, Pakistan last fall, we were able to spend a day with 130 of the top business, academic, and government leaders in the greater Karachi region. Before showing our participants The Global Shockwave 20 list, we asked them to break up into table teams and identify shockwaves that have had a particularly strong impact on the Pakistani business environment. Our goal was to see if shockwave impact could vary by global region.

Our Pakistani friends suggested shockwaves such as 9/11, oil prices, Arab Spring, regional conflicts, and terrorism had been the largest impact. These are mostly from the Geo-political and Economic categories, whereas the western world feels the greatest disruption from New Technologies, Management Theory, and Global Competition. This answered our question as to how different global regions might experience each of the 20 Global Shockwaves differently.

It goes without saying that disruption is here to stay. And disruption and turbulence will only strengthen. Think of it as simply a cost of doing business in today’s digital economy.

Great leadership teams will recognize this and schedule strategic work into their schedules to 1) scan the environment; 2) identify potential disruptive flash floods; and 3) plan proactive, strategic, and disruptive responses. This will help ensure that unannounced global shockwaves rarely sweep them down the river to irrelevance and failure.

A powerful Age of Disruption principle is this: if leaders focus on the organization’s strategic work (building unique competitive advantage) instead of daily business essential and compliance work that should be delegated, significant breakthroughs are much more likely to happen.

This is true 21st century leadership.