Three perspectives on disruption, and strategies for surviving it
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  information-insights iod11 baforum ibmsoftware
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Is disruption the new normal? It seems like it lately, as my social feeds serve up the ongoing speculation about Apple's future, the devastation wrought by tropical storm Irene and the continuing gloomy outlook for the world economy.
Luckily, though, my feeds have also served up three great reads about how to manage through disruption as well. I've summarized them and explained why I think they're important.
Whitney Johnson: "No idea what will come next"
The first is Whitney Johnson's post in the Harvard Business Review blog, entitled "Disrupt Yourself." A former investment banker, Johnson describes the risks and fear involved in walking away from a seven-figure salary to become an entrepreneur and shares the lessons she's learned in the six years since. Briefly, they are as follows:
Marc Andreessen: "Even books are software"
The second read is Marc Andreessen's Wall Street Journal piece, "Why Software is Eating the World." Andreessen's is a voice for optimism in a stream of gloomy economic news. Shunning the speculation of another "internet bubble," he sees companies like Facebook, Zynga and Foursquare building high-growth, high-margin and highly defensible businesses. He explains:
My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy/ [...] More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not [...] Today, the world's largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company—its core capability is its amazing software engine for selling virtually everything online, no retail stores necessary. On top of that, while Borders was thrashing in the throes of impending bankruptcy, Amazon rearranged its web site to promote its Kindle digital books over physical books for the first time. Now even the books themselves are software.
Jack Mason: "Sharing has become the defining quality of digital society"
The third is the blog post "The Social Contract in a Social Business," by fellow IBMer Jack Mason. Here, Jack looks at the equally influential and equally disruptive trend playing out in business and beyond: our increasing comfort with living and sharing our lives online, and the benefits of our doing so. Mason writes:
Individually and collectively, we appear to be growing more comfortable living in public like this through our profiles, social networks and mobile communications. Like all exponential changes, this shift in attitude and practice has crept up on us. [...] [S]haring has become the defining quality of digital society. At IBM, this new stratagem is often referred to as “social business.” It entails more than just business use of social software and networks for external purposes such as marketing. In the fuller view, social business is about re-shaping organizations to become more collaborative, communal and capable in fostering human relationships. my informal social contract with IBM is pretty great — I’m not just able to devote time and energy to strategic sharing and innovating in social media, I am generally recognized and rewarded for leading by these examples.
What these pieces have in common
If you've made it this far, why do I think these are important? I can offer two reasons: first, they're the kind of eloquent, thoughtful pieces that, together, suggest a framework to help me better understand the broader trends currently at play in our world. Second, they align quite nicely with the role IBM sees for software in business today.
With a perspective on the business of technology that stretches back a full 100 years, IBM has seen (and sometimes created) more than its share of innovations and disruptions in both (At this point I'd suggest a quick side trip to the IBM Icons of Progress). Yes, we are living in an era of tremendous economic and technological and political disruption. But I'd also argue that it's an era of tremendous opportunity. Using the ideas put forth by Johnson, Andreessen and Mason as their guides, organizations and individuals alike can start to reorient and reinvent themselves to succeed now and into the future. They can become more agile. More predictive. More insightful. In short, they can become smarter. Examples of corporate reinvention are all around us. Examples of personal reinvention - even in a business context - are increasingly common and compelling.
I'm in: Where do I start?
If either of these scenarios sounds appealing, where do you start? I can point you in two directions: first, go back to the top of this post and read the full articles. Print them out if need be. (trust me, you read slower on hard copy, and you'll absorb more, too); second, make a point to attend this year's Information On Demand conference. It's there that you'll make the connections, learn the skills and see examples of companies that are using information and analytics software to manage through the disruption to reinvent themselves for success.
One day I'll write with the same level of insight as Mason et al. Until then, i'll continue to rely on the ideas they put forth to better understand times we're living in. Where will you start?