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Disrupt yourself now to thrive later



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I predict one day Amazon will fail. If you look at large companies, their lifespan tends to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus.”….

“If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end … We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible.”

So says Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world. This is the same thinking that Bill Gates expressed in the book Business at the Speed of Thought when he stated that a day will come when a new start-up will put Microsoft out of business.

These two thought processes tie in with the concept of progressive paranoia, which is an essential tool for staying relevant.

Facebook is worth half a trillion dollars, yet it keeps buying up new companies for new talent and to stay relevant.

The greatest battle of any corporate is the battle to stay relevant. Many, however, lose this battle before it starts, because they never registered for it.

They get comfortable too quickly and so they don’t even have a clue about disruption. One of the great attributes of companies that will weather disruption lies in their progressive paranoia.

In spite of Facebook’s $500 billion value, the company is not slowing down at all. It is busy buying out start-ups so it can own fresh minds and new intellectual property.

One of their acquisitions was Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion.

Instagram at that time was a 13-person app and people thought that Facebook was crazy to have invested such a colossal amount of money in it. Time seems to be revealing that they made the right bet on the future.

Today, Facebook is experiencing attacks from different quarters but it remains unmoved. They have bought the future through the acquisition of Instagram and others.

It is constantly making changes to Instagram and developing new tweak. Indeed in a very subtle way, Mark Zuckerberg though Instagram seems to be quietly disrupting Facebook.

This is the genius of the whole thing. If Facebook goes down today, Instagram is already poised to take the lead.

The most important act of preserving ourselves against disruption is self-disruption. Only those companies paranoid enough to disrupt themselves from within can ever survive when the wave of disruption hits their industry.

It’s the same reason why an oak may not survive a hurricane but a shrub will. The oak stands tall and dignified and does not bend. It is fixed and imposing.

The shrub on the other hand is constantly bending and being blown from left to right. Through this practice of disruption, it is prepared.

The fixed mindset of some of today’s corporate leadership cannot survive the hurricane of disruption when it comes. Organisations need to be both flexible and consistent. Consistent in results but flexible in how to get there.

Many organisations are led by corporate ostriches who think that by hiding their heads in the sand they have gained some level of immunity. What therefore is the mindset that is required to prepare for disruption?

First, other organisations bigger, better and richer than us have graced the face of the earth and have fallen. So, size, quality and deep pockets cannot insulate us against disruption.

Second, people more intelligent than us have presided over organisations that were blown off the face of the earth.

So, intelligence alone is not enough. For intelligence to be useful it has to be relevant. And, relevant intelligence is not tied to academic qualifications. Even that (academic intelligence and schooling as we know it) is being disrupted.

Third, we must accept the fact that to remain relevant we may sometimes need to submit ourselves to the tutelage of those we once considered insignificant.

Once you see where intelligence is producing results that are relevant, humble yourself.

Sit, ask questions and learn. Life is always teaching and so we must always be ready to learn. The company that says. “This is how we have always done it” is running on empty. Its expiry date is in sight.

Disruption can be disrupted by rightly positioning yourself. Don’t set your benchmark so low that you do not appear on the radar of companies worth disrupting.

The greatest tribute to innovation is imitation. The next greatest tribute is to be marked out for disruption.

If you’re a threat to no one, then you are insignificant. In other words, part of the proof of your strong position lies in how many people consider you a threat and not in how many people like you.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer at PowerTalks.

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