is disruption inevitable?

Reading the mainstream press you would think so… “hey we’re going out of business because we got disrupted”….Kodak, Dell, Borders…. all poster child examples of it…

But is it inevitable?

I think the first thing to get clear on is what is disruption. I summarised it (a long time ago using Clayton Christensen’s model), But it is light on an incumbents inertia to change (hey, i’ve learnt a bit since then). It appears that product disruption is slightly more granular…
There ARE unpredictable technology advances ….but in writing this, I was struck by how hard they are to identify… to me there aren’t really that many. I’m thinking truly revolutionary stuff – the printing press, electricity, 3D printing, the wheel, lasers.  I think they are truly disruptive because they caused a large discontinuity in the natural evolution of the product.. For instance, could companies who make eye glasses have reliably picked lasers would compete with them (LASIC), do builders/OEM think 3D printers are a threat to them?  For printing its an evolution, for them… thats different.


Being disrupted by unpredictable market change is part of business BUT ….. being disrupted by a predictable market change is a sign of woeful strategic failure

But then there is a bunch of things that are labeled disruptive (including by me), but really are predictable. Digital printing (kodak invented it), streaming content, cloud computing, IP telephony…. all predictable evolutions. Failure in these instances is a management failure…but its more convenient and easy for management to blame disruption or an outside force, than it is to accept responsibility.

Inertia…it definitely exists, i’ve pushed against it for years. But again its a scapegoat kind of word. All change is hard, changing the what a company does, how and why .. the fundamentals is even harder. But given the stark choice of obsolescence, or taking on hard stuff.. what are you gonna do?

How to deal with predictable disruption is also pretty well documented, (he’s my quick summary). However it is not convenient, easy or without risk… CEO’s prefer not to battle politics rather than fund a step out, they’d rather milk the cash cow than canabalise their existing revenues. (interestingly, hard ass CEO’s of great companies do this)

Embracing Commoditisation

Today saw the double announcement that Salesforce and Rackspace (and hints that Amazon) are entering the mobile app development space. In fact actively commoditising it.

Outside of the hyperbole about how mobile is the platform de jour, what struck me about this is it was entirely predictable.  I’ve fast become a big fan of the work of Simon Wardely. if you read his latest series of posts, you will see what I mean about predictability.

Firstly, everything evolves, and the commoditisation of mobile app development is no different.  Today’s announcement probably saw a rapid movement up the curve for some companies, the ones still in the custom build phase, however the SDK’s are now a product bordering on a commodity.

Simon Wardley's evolution model

Simon Wardley’s evolution model

The second reason this was predictable was using Simon’s ILC model. My view on this is that in the greater game of strategy, it is always in someones interests to be doing the commoditising, as opposed to being commoditised.  And in the new world of cloud computing, the big guys in this space have figured out models that actively target sectors to target. (see Simon’s post on Amazon)

Simon Wardley's Innovate, leverage Commoditise model (ILC)

Simon Wardley’s Innovate, leverage Commoditise model (ILC)

The thing is, in actively commoditising other industries, these cloud players drive scale onto their platforms, create ecosystems of developers wedded to their platforms, drive more integration into their core offering (SFDC) and can see the new breed of winning plays in which to acquire.  Then rinse & repeat.

Now, I know what it is to live in a company that is being disrupted, you worry about today’s numbers and how you marginally improve your portfolio day in and day out… and I know that it is easy to look back in hindsight and say “that was predictable”.  The trick for us all, and i think the true message in Simon’s serious of recent posts,  is that we owe it to our companies or ourselves to undertake the process of predicting what will happen to our company and jobs and take the appropriate steps to react.

It’s that lack of understanding [of] Why which will almost certainly be behind the highly probable and unnecessary disruption of once great companies such as HP, Dell, IBM, Oracle and SAP by a predictable market change such as cloud computing. These companies by right of their position should never face disruption by a predictable market change. They should only be disrupted by an unpredictable market change

In fact Simon is pretty scathing on companies who fail to react to what is predictable (more on this in another post)

The content conundrum and NZ fibre

I read the latest in a series of articles indentifying a lack of digital content as one of the main barriers to take up of fibre (UFB here in NZ). In NZ by far our most important digital content is sport, and Rugby is the king of the heap here …

For my international readers a brief history.   There is a government funded rollout of fibre to 85% of the households here.  Take up of the fibre services is low (circa 2.8% of premises past). There has been enormous structural change in the industry given the forced separation of the dominant Telco into a network (chorus) and retail arm.  This has forced duplication and system work onto the industry that they are still trying to deal with… mundane under the hood things like how to buy, provision and manage the fibre solutions at a retail level.  To top it off the dominant pay TV station is Sky, who owns a monopoly on movie and more importantly sports content…

And that is the rub … because, dear  New Zealanders, if you want to continue to have the best rugby team in the world (the All Blacks), then you need to pay enough to hold the talent here…. and sky TV are the lynch pin in that….  no big TV rights, no quality players, and no quality players… no world champions…. and no world champions means a unhappy nation…(on the whole).

The government is trapped… politics is about popularity… and it won’t do anything to ruin the national sport… so until someone ponies up enough to fund the retention of the players and deliver the content over the glass instead of Satellite… high value sports content is going to remain locked up …. sure you will see the normal bombast from the governement… but my prediction is very little action..

Sure i can solve the movie challenge with a small amount of effort, but I can’t get the sports…