What’s the problem here?
Disruptive technology is misunderstood – or worse, ignored – by many because it is often too technical or takes time to understand. An example of a technology that usually falls foul of these issues is something like 3D printing. The results can be seen but the issues are behind the scenes and therefore difficult to work through. Working with multiple senior executives at large and small companies across a wide spectrum of clients has taught me one thing: understand the person before the technology.
Beyond simply putting off what is difficult or unknown, many executives simply don’t see disruptive and emerging technologies as part of their job, but rather as something special that should be kept for a once-a-year type of extravaganza.
While this approach can be galvanizing and inspiring, it is often what can be termed ‘firework activity’ – it burns brightly and impresses but is quickly forgotten and must truly stand out in order to be remembered and not block a person or company from moving forward.
None of these blocks are insurmountable. A few of them are difficult and require discipline – the latter issue (‘it’s not my job’) needs careful management as it is often a sign of larger issues or an employee that is unhappy or lacking the skills to be open to change. Use this opportunity to move everyone forward.
1. It doesn’t have to cost the earth
The other misconception about emerging technologies regards the high price and cost of continually staying ahead of the competition. While this point can be true for some companies because of the technologies they will be interested in, most can, with the right goals, create a smart innovation and emerging technology programme for very little time and money. Sometimes understanding the technologies available and waiting for others to educate the masses is the correct strategy; other times you will need to lead. Understanding when to and when not to invest money is crucial.
2. Small is beautiful
A common response when a new technology strategy is questioned by senior executives is, ‘We don’t need to be first.’ This is a fair answer, as a lot of the bigger companies have dedicated budgets and reasons to lead. However, this scenario is likely to change due to the agile nature of start-ups and the way new technologies can be rolled out faster and faster with established networks already in place. In a lot of ways, many small businesses are leading the way for industries or other businesses because of their size, not despite it.
Financial technologies (often referred to as ‘Fin-Tech’) like Stripe, Square and iZettle that focused on transforming the way small businesses took payments from customers across the world are a great example of this sea change. These three companies are now much bigger than their original products which were designed to make digital payments easier either by creating a simple but technologically advanced point-of-sale solution for businesses of all sizes (Square) or reducing the friction of selling through social platforms like Twitter and Facebook (as Stripe have done).
In this case, the creation of an agile steering group with a key lead figure is crucial to short- and long-term success.
3. Commitment is key to success
The final area where many companies let themselves down when thinking about emerging and disruptive technologies can be summed up in one word – commitment. Many companies I have worked with did not have the drive in the beginning but had clear needs, whether they were financial, retail development or issues with diversifying product line. Top executives simply did not view emerging technology as part of their ongoing strategy and focused on short-term objectives that were in front of their face rather than forces arriving on the periphery. This is an easy and all-too-common mistake for any business in this fast-moving world that works in the short term but ultimately leaves you in the same or a worse place year after year.
Your job is to afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted
The job here is simple.
Ask yourself, ‘What is the risk of doing nothing?’ and whether there is real commitment to completing the task at all levels. A great way of thinking about this if your company is in a state of inertia or not moving in any direction is to ask yourself, ‘Are we doing good work or are we just comfortable?’ When I go in to see a business for the first time, the conversation often falls into one of those two areas: as a business coach once said to me, ‘Your job is to afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted.’
4. It starts with you
Often individual workers – that means you too – don’t see disruptive and emerging technologies (including simply keeping up with existing technological changes) as an integral part of their job description and therefore deprioritize research (or simply taking time to think) over more ‘business as usual’ tasks. Usually there are two types of push backs when it comes to emerging technology. Some simply push back on the time it is perceived to take, saying, ‘I have no time to do the job I am asked to do right now, let alone “this stuff”’, whilst others simply don’t believe it is their job to do this sort of thing.
Neither response means those people are bad employees or couldn’t do the job but some adjustments are required so your programme is given the best chance for success. Later on in the book there will be a checklist of things you can do personally to keep you and your colleagues updated on disruptive technologies that don’t cost the earth or suck up too much time.
If you’d like to learn more about Disruptive Technologies, download a sample chapter of Paul’s book here, free on pointZero now.
Paul Armstrong, currently running his own private emerging technology advisory, HERE/FORTH, is an experienced social media and technologies strategist. He started his career with Myspace, Sony and Activision in the United States before returning to the UK to join global media agency, Mindshare, to head up their social technologies team.
This extract from Disruptive Technologies by Paul Armstrong is ©2017 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.