I’ve written before on the need for businesses to roll with the punches in this unending age of disruption. Be more tortoise. So it was interesting to listen to 4 massive, long established businesses talking about how they were responding to change.
The occasion was the rather lengthily titled ‘The Art of Self-Disruption – an incumbent’s guide to re-invention in the age of disruption’ (phew). It was ably hosted by LinkedIn in their swish new building in Farringdon. The brands were RBS, SAP, Microsoft and BP. Together they have successfully navigated 493 years in business; from RBS’s impressive 292 years to the ‘arriviste’ Microsoft which only has 44 years on its clock. Still, not to be sniffed at.
With collective revenues of £455bn these businesses don’t look like they are going to go out of business any time soon. 77% of the world’s transactions run on SAP software. Our reliance on fossil fuels isn’t going to evaporate overnight. Microsoft’s operating platform is ubiquitous. And people will continue to need banks no matter how they interact with them on mobile.
Despite this, every panel member, Emma Isaac from RBS, Maggie Buggie from SAP, Richard Potter (I wonder if he gets called Harry from time to time?) from Microsoft and Jurgen Bloemers from BP saw innovation as a key part of their remit – whether or not it was in their job titles.
And despite the apparent success of the status quo, every company was deep in self-disruption. The simple reason of course is the need for self-preservation. As Mark Wilson, ex CEO of Aviva said, if you don’t cannibalise your own business, someone else will.
What became apparent during the evening is that disruption had far deeper results than just gaining commercial advantage. From listening to customers, to embracing diversity of thought, it seems that pursuing money for the sake of money is no longer the way to do business in the age of disruption. And the new way of doing business is resonating in ways that the word ‘disruption’, with all its negative implications of change and discomfort, doesn’t do justice to.
Listening to the comments from the excellent panel, four themes emerged for me. They aren’t necessarily complete answers to the question ‘How do you successfully self-disrupt’ but they do highlight the things you need to consider when doing so.
1. Focus your business on your customer.
2. Don’t do it on your own.
3. Put your people at the heart of it
4. Harness diversity