The path for brands looking to own their disruption

"So, how does any business transition between a legacy model and our future model without blowing it up and walking away in slow-mo?"

Let me state the really obvious: Almost every industry is in the midst of disruption. Big, hearty disruption. Few are immune, although too many are pretending they are. Others are rolling up their sleeves, getting tattoos and embracing disruption – genuinely seizing the moment to build and experiment.

If you’re absolutely sure you’re the leading force for disruption in your market, no need to keep reading. But for everyone else…

Our world has changed irrevocably, and it won’t be changing back, nor should it. The new opportunities revealing themselves from our dramatic technological and societal change are significant, but brands are struggling to seize these opportunities. The systems that have benefited us for years are increasingly redundant, and in some cases are starting to hurt us.  

I’m from the ad agency world, and admittedly our sector is no exception. Agencies have been almost incapable of getting out the way of their own hubris, boldly assuming that they can force fit a culture of building and experimentation into traditions, cultures and systems that are almost entirely built to reject change. The reason this permeates is usually not the fault of an individual; it’s systemic. The model that underpins our industry is at fault. It has been inflexible, not allowing for movement. It usually cracks under the pressures of this new world order.

So, how does any business transition between a legacy model and our future model without blowing it up and walking away in slow-mo?

If you fear you or your brand might not recognize a disruption opportunity if it were standing right in front of you, that’s fine. I can tell you what to look for and where to look.

But the first step is on you: Start by accepting that you are broken, or in danger of breaking. Then you start inventing, stealing and partnering to build a new, flexible model that gives creativity its value back. Had your epiphany? Great. Congrats. Now, let’s examine what it looks like to own your industry’s disruption.

Disruption Leaders Look Outside. It’s critical that you expand our ecosystem. Stop guarding your work behind your arm like a 5th grader. Chances are, that if you haven’t built functions yet that are excelling in this new landscape, then you are too late – too late, at least, for what’s needed today. So go and find friends and partners that are excelling and hang out with them. I promise you that your people and your clients will be ok with that.

Pursue Futurism Over Innovation. Surprising coming from a Chief Innovation Officer, but important. VC’s are famously good at defining their thesis of the future and placing their bets based on that. Haven’t defined your own futurist thesis? This again will likely mean working with other experts. Perhaps even people we have not usually invited to sit at the cool table. If you have a sense of what you believe are going to be the big shifts, then we can start deciding which shiny objects to set our magpie eyes on.

Disruption Leaders Are… Hat Models? To expand horizons, we all need to wear more hats. There isn’t a startup in the world run by people who only do one thing. Those "things" are also usually quite different. Think developer + CEO + Salesperson + coffee machine technician. THAT’s a disruptor. (Must be the caffeine.) "Well, Dan" you say, "We are not a startup." But if you’re not, your lunch is being eaten by them. So, let me continue to beat this hat metaphor with a stick: Wearing more hats makes talent more valuable, and more relevant for a changed market place. Rewarding this behavior in individuals has a compounded positive effect on the business overall, and opens you up to the type of emerging talent you really need to start attracting as partners and team members.

There will be a reappraisal of the value of creativity. When the world is entirely connected by sensors, when cereal is talking to milk and your car looks after your kids, the value of human creativity – and how that can materially impact a business’s bottom line – will once again be prized.

Be diverse, curious and driven to always be re-imagining what tomorrow looks like.

Own your ongoing and inevitable disruption, and you will own your future.

Dan Bennett is the worldwide chief innovation officer of Grey.

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