Innovation, entrepreneurship and the new rules
A guest post by David Passiak
The rapid pace of innovation can feel overwhelming and incomprehensible at times: a never-ending stream of links, trends, and buzzwords; new technologies, platforms, and companies; like this, share that, follow me, etc. Our society and culture is based on linear thinking, and so our natural inclination is to brace ourselves and wait for things to settle down. But that won’t happen. The rate of change will only continue to increase exponentially faster. And social media was just the beginning…the real revolution will occur when the social sharing ecosystem evolves and disrupts how we buy, sell, deliver, share, give, and access products and services.
Everything is changing
We are at the beginning of a fundamental, irreversible shift in human history. As Seth Godin says, there is no going back to normal. This is the “new normal.” The days of making a good living being told what to do are over. Jobs are not coming back. In fact, drones, robots, 3D printing, and software automation solutions will only make it more cost effective to replace workers than outsourcing to China or India. The rules of leadership have also changed. Nobody is unaffected. The good news is that in an era of lowest common denominators—cheap labor, cheap products, and cheap access—there are extraordinary opportunities for people with the courage to be remarkable.
The term Disruption Revolution refers to how innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors all rallied around the term disruption, creating a revolution of innovation that was accelerated by the economic crash of 2008-9 because constraint drives innovation. As companies were forced to cut costs and find new ways of generating revenue, CEOs and pragmatic business leaders invested in innovations that previously might have been considered too “experimental” or disruptive to their core business. Meanwhile, public trust in companies fell dramatically, which reinforced the need to adopt social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Innovations such as cloud computing made it easy for anyone with a laptop and a credit card to found a company, while the loss of employment and limited job prospects forced everyone to think like entrepreneurs—renting spare rooms on AirBnB, selling goods in marketplaces like eBay or Etsy, crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, etc
Disruption has now become a type of aspiration and rallying call—we’re disrupting that market!—for startups that might not even have customers or users. Strictly speaking, many self-proclaimed disruptors aren’t disrupting anything yet. But in embracing the term as a mantra of their core identity, they reinforce that (1) there is a “new normal” way of doing things now and (2) being “disruptive” is somehow better. This also drives creating revolutionary new business models around sharing and collaboration that arguably will redefine capitalism in contrast to the unsustainable “borrow and spend” practices that caused the recent economic crash. The desire for change is moving from early-adopters into the mainstream—what in innovation terms is called “crossing the chasm”—setting in motion a set of irreversible shifts in society and culture that coincide with a billion people on Facebook, millions of smart phones and tablets, and ubiquitous access to the Internet.
There is a tendency among leadership within larger companies to try and force innovations into conventional ways of operating—for example, to transform social media into a marketing and communications channel, or to segment innovation into a silo like product development. These approaches fail to comprehend that the ground is moving. Innovation is not simply a matter of adapting to market forces, or integrating a hodgepodge of tools into your workflow. It requires revolutionary approaches to how an organization operates and runs that must be systematically implemented from the top down, with full C-level executive support and a clear vision.
Technology becomes the most powerful when we cease to view it as “technology” and it just becomes part of our daily life. For example, if I use the Xbox, laptop, mobile phone, tablet and Google Glass to access my favorite websites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest etc., then I expect a consistent brand identity, messaging and user experience on all devices and platforms. It’s all just “stuff I do” as a normal part of my day. Companies think of this in terms of “communications across multiple channels” with different resources allocated for various departments (customer service, marketing, public relations, sales, etc.). This is really hard to manage internally at a larger organization where messaging and brand identity are carefully controlled. However, consumer expectations have changed, and their loyalty (and dollars) will go to companies that engage them at the right time, right place, and with the right personalized message.
Lifestyle now matters more than conventional demographics, as online communities form around likeminded interests that transcend age, race, ethnicity, gender, and national geographic boundaries. Lifestyle engagement and delivering shared experiences across devices and platforms, with real-world touch points, becomes the future of marketing. One area of lifestyle marketing that I expect to grow dramatically is around electronic dance music or EDM: futuristic music made on innovative digital instruments, uniting people at festivals or via headphones with beats instead of lyrics, sprawling across social platforms and all Internet connected devices, tapping into what Brian Solis refers to as true digital convergence.
The Disruption Revolution is also creating a new type of hero and shaping the aspirations of an entire generation, perhaps best exemplified by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the movie that mythologized him, The Social Network. The master narrative of college-to-career is being replaced by the story of gigs and temporary jobs, buried in student loan debt and living at home, forced to forge a different path defined on your own terms: becoming an entrepreneur. This generation exhibits shifts in behaviour characterized by collaboration and sharing, preferring access to goods and experiences instead of ownership, sustainability instead of consumption, less is more. It is as if the collaborative sharing tools of social media and mobile/tablet devices act like training wheels to reorganize society in a way that is more democratic, egalitarian, and meritocratic.
Yet disruptive innovations are, by definition, disruptive to our preconceived notions of how the world could or should be. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Today’s science fiction will become tomorrow’s mass market consumer products, as technology gets exponentially cheaper, faster, better and smaller year over year. Welcome to the Disruption Revolution!