Disrupting Disruption at Davos

For those of us in the futurology business the concept of disruption has long been a central organizing principle of how we look at the world and the people and organizations that try to navigate it.

In white paper after white paper, and in presentation after presentation, we’ve told those that care to read or listen that “technology x is going to be disruptive”; that “company y has the potential to disrupt the market”; that “the fat margins that vendor z is currently enjoying leaves it open to disruption from lower cost alternatives emerging in the market”.

Each time we’ve bandied the D word around we’ve done it with relish and zeal; disruption – our unquestioned assumption has been – is a good thing. Don’t agree? Well, dear reader, dear audience member, you’re a dodo, you’re a Luddite, you’re not with the program. You’re toast.

This semi-mystical belief in the power – and inherent goodness – of disruption has, over the last 30 years, seeped from the pages of technology journals into the zeitgeist of modern business. As software has increasingly eaten business, business has increasingly adopted tech-centric mantras. Now even the humblest widget manufacturer is attuned to the notion of being disruptive – or being disrupted.

But a funny thing has happened recently. A funny thing that was on full-display along the snowy Promenade in Davos last week.

The disruption we’ve practiced and preached has itself been disrupted. Disruption has taken a new shape, a new form factor, a new guise. Disruption has a new name.

No prizes for guessing who I’m talking about.

Now Davos man and woman – the archetypal proselytizers of disruption – are being disrupted. And guess what? They don’t like it.

Disrupting is great fun. Being disrupted is absolutely horrible.

An unintended consequence of the ever broadening accommodation with disruption over the last generation or two has been the emergence of a new complacency. Having read every book about tech-based market disruption we’ve thought that a rose is a rose is a rose. With our tech-centric hammer to hand, every problem has become a tech-centric nail to bash home.

But that’s the great (or awful) thing about disruption (depending on where you stand and what the view looks like); real disruption is always new. Always different. Always unexpected. Unforecastable.

To paraphrase (and mangle) one of the high priests of disruption, Clayton Christensen, there are two types of disruption; sustaining disruption, and disruptive disruption. Davos (wo)man (btw; that includes you, even if you weren’t actually in Switzerland – remember in the big businesses within which the majority of us work, we are all “Spartacus”) has been operating within a framework of sustaining disruption these last few decades. Though Instagram disrupted Kodak and Netflix disrupted Blockbuster these disruptions occurred within well understood market rules. As we move further into the first hundred days we don’t really know what the rules of the game are anymore. Or even what the game we’re playing is.

Real disruption is always lurking on the edge of the radar; always there. Someone on your team has told you this is coming. Someone has said, quietly from the back of the room, we better take this seriously. Surprises only happen when you’re not paying attention. And when you simply don’t want that type of disruption to occur.

So what we can take away from Davos 2017? What can we learn from this uncomfortable period in which so many of the orthodoxies that have underpinned standard operating procedure are challenged and, perhaps, overturned?

I think two things; firstly, that disruption is an ever morphing thing, which if you think you’ve got it nailed down, is probably going to slip away and fool you just when you think you’re home and dry. The unknown unknowns really are unknown.

And secondly, that, even as go about our daily work of evangelizing Blockchain, and Virtual Reality, and Quantum Computing, and Machine Learning, and Fog Computing, there are companies and people that are going to be on the wrong side of the coming disruption whose futures are not so bright. Whose better days are behind them. Who will not write the history of their great adventure. Who will not be the heroes of their story. Who will be the proverbial third spear carrier from the left when Hollywood comes to town.

Knowing that the people that we’re presenting to, who are reading our reports, who we’re consulting to, are months (or minutes) away from losing their place on the totem pole should give us all a sense of humility and humbleness, as we hand down our commandments from on high. There but for the grace of God go I.

Davos 2017 was a community trying to come to terms with the disruption ahead. Anxious at best, fearful at worst, that those who live by disruption die by disruption.


The Future of "the Room" in a Flat World

As someone who’s worked remotely for the last 17 years at companies leveraging “flat world” principles http://amzn.to/1j6j1yN it may surprise you that I’m about to extol the virtues of the “face to face”; but here goes!

There are a ton of elements of most jobs that can be done anywhere; if you write code to a spec you can do it in the office, in your bedroom, in Starbucks, in the bath. Nowadays, nobody really cares. As long as it’s good and on time, anything goes. If you handle customer service calls you can do it on the massive floor of a call center or at your kitchen table in Lebanon, Kansas, as long as your turn-around times and customers’ satisfaction ratings are up to snuff. If, like me, your job mainly consists of the three R’s – reading, ‘riting, and ruminatin’ – a “clean, well-lighted place” is about all you need.

Except... when you need the heat, and energy, and frustration, and excitement, and drama, of intellectual hand-to-hand combat to find, build – and winthe future of your work. Then there is no substitute – still no substitute – for being in the room.

The phone, Skype, email, Slack, video conferences, Jabber, FaceTime, Hangouts, are all great and serve their purposes well, but when you want a group of people to come together to really talk, really focus, really energize each other, really be creative and innovative, really sell ideas to each other, and really dig deep, then being in the same physical space at the same time really still takes some beating.

In our Collaboratory in midtown Manhattan http://bit.ly/1IIZWqZ we see the truth of this every day. Our customers are energized by being in the room with their peers (some of whom they hardly ever see in person), and our consultants, and engineers, and designers, and strategists. Building off the vibe and energy of the world’s ultimate 24-hour city and a We Work building full of entrepreneurs and creative millennials (“is one of these guys the next Zuckerberg?” you catch yourself thinking in the elevator), they step outside of their Q by Q, day by day, minute by minute concerns and give themselves the time and the space to think differently about what comes next, and what they should do about it. As we develop more Collaboratorys around the world (in Amsterdam and London already, coming soon to Australia and Singapore as well as India and California), we’re finding a new “hybrid” model emerging in which we meld the still amazing upsides of working wherever and whenever with the catalytic heat that “the room” generates. In 2016 the world is flatter than ever but, paradoxically because of that, the “room” matters more than ever, too.

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3 strategies for meeting expectations in the changing workplace

The advancement of technology, as well as the globalisation of the workplace and changing work patterns, is transforming the expectations of your typical employee.

As the workplace of the future evolves, leaders and managers will have to harness the right tools help them meet these expectations, whilst also providing the resources that their employees are coming to expect.

With this in mind, a recent article on the Biz Journals website suggested some approaches for how businesses of all sizes can deal with these growing expectations.

1. Increase employee satisfaction

Ensuring that your employees are satisfied is a guaranteed way to boost productivity; yet a Gallup study shows that just 32% of US employees are engaged in their roles. This means there's a valuable opportunity for employers to increase employee satisfaction and, as a result, overall productivity levels.

Millennials are accounting for a growing proportion of the workforce - this group wants to feel they are contributing something to their organization's wider goals. So, leveraging workplace collaboration tools and software, as well as embracing enterprise social media, will have to become more of a priority.

2. Give them mobile choices

Freelance and remote working are growing phenomenons, with rising numbers choosing this kind of work over traditional jobs. This will only continue as we see the increased adoption of wearables in the workplace. Employers must prepare for this if they are to attract and retain new talent; whether it's adopting a BYOD(bring-your-own-deivce) policy or providing mobile-friendly internal platforms and software.

3. Boost communication

Email has been the predominant business communications tool for the past twenty years or so; but with inboxes piling up and people preferring two-way, instantaneous communication, this is likely to change in the years to come. Meetings are also becoming less popular as they are seen to waste valuable employee time. Bosses will have to keep up with communication technologies that can provide alternatives to these increasingly outdated channels, and ensure that meetings are more about quality than quantity.