My Grandfather was a horse trader. Born in 1900, he used a team of horses to move everything, from rocks to lumber. Cars started an era of disruption, but horses still moved the other stuff on our Wyoming ranch.
In 1926 the first Ferguson tractor was built and it wasn’t long until that disruptive technology changed my Grandfather’s life. Horse traders were out of a job and he had to pivot to keep food on the table. He’d always been a horse trader; he had no formal training for anything else. He hired himself out to fix fences until he saved enough to buy a tractor. He used the tractor to put up hay on neighboring ranches. All the while, he saved money to buy more grazing land for cattle.
My family still owns the ranch. He didn’t have to sell because he believed he would prevail in spite of difficult circumstances. He figured out how to embrace the era of disruption that changed his life forever.
Mental toughness is believing that you will prevail in your circumstances rather than believing your circumstances will change. As a leader, you need to be mentally tough in your response to emerging technology that will alter the way your people live and work.
There is nothing you can do to prevent the escalation of innovation and adoption of new technology. Every C-suite executive in the world is asking themselves these questions: How to compete in an era of disruption? Can I embrace disruptive technology and use it to squeeze out competition? Should I protect entrenched positions, or re-invent my business?
You get it right and your company can successfully compete in today’s digital economy. You don’t get it right, you lose and move on.
Here is how you need to compete in an era of disruption:
1. Intentionally create a collaborative environment
More and more CEO’s are obsessed with the question of whether or not their companies are truly Amazon-proof. Improved collaboration is essential if they want to approach this challenge to maintain a competitive advantage in this era of disruption.
This goes against the grain for many of us because of the media, education, and even the way in which we were raised by our parents. From a young age we understand a clear power structure between children and parents, students and teachers, and employees and bosses. This power dynamic disempowers us not only at home and in school, but in the workplace as well.
Many CEO’s and leaders pay little attention to how they create collaborative environments. In order to build trust, it’s essential to bring people from all levels of the organization together to have informal discussions and share experiences. The idea of authority needs to shift into a more enlightened way of thinking that brings people together as peers and not just a cog in the power structure.
How to make it work for you: You may need to persuade your team members to buy into your idea. To be successful, you need more than a title or position to persuade them to accept your agenda. Ask them open-ended questions because it encourages people to give you long form answers instead of a simple Yes or No response. This is where the buy-in begins. Rather than being told what to do, they provide at least part of the solution.
2. Grow your company’s digital DNA now
The potential benefits of new technologies are tremendous—but so are the challenges as you prepare for their impact. You cannot wait until these technologies emerge before you decide on a strategy. If you wait, it will be too late to capture the benefits or react to the consequences.
It’s not too soon to grow your company’s digital DNA. If you’ve freed up your valuable IT resources to work on innovation rather than infrastructure, you’re already headed in the right direction.
Many CEO’s are already being challenged by their Board of Directors to make digital technology improvements a priority. They are asking the hard questions that will drive their company’s strategy.
How to make it work for you: Hand over infrastructure to an outsource provider. Let someone else worry about software updates and upgrades. Refocus your limited IT resources on innovation and new technology. Experts predict that zero infrastructure (IaaS) organizations are the future.
3. Act like a venture capitalist
VC’s meet with entrepreneurs and emerging technology companies and finance the ones that appear the most promising. They spend a lot of time on research and due diligence for active deals.
Think about setting up your own process to support early-stage tech companies. Assign technology scouts from your team who can meet with companies initially and figure out which ones are interesting. If you are a smaller company, look for ones that might be good partners. If you’re a larger corporation, look for ones that might become acquisitions.
Create a process where you can test and utilize emerging technologies. Discard them quickly if they don’t give you a leg up on your competition.
Experimentation is hard for bigger organizations, since they tend to focus on execution rather than innovation. Innovation requires experimentation, and this is where risk is introduced at a granular level. To counter this risk, you will need to set up an experimentation process.
The ability to pick ourselves up when hit with disruptive technology is called resilience. In today’s competitive culture, resilience has become a critical skill because it takes more than talent to succeed.
The ability to bounce back requires that we learn from our mistakes. When we do, we learn how to take smarter risks next time.
How to make it work for you: Create a culture of smart risk-taking in your company. Smart risks are small enough that they don’t jeopardize the business. Clearly communicate the limits of risk-taking to your teams. Put procedures in place for review to make certain there is no breach of those limits.
4. Expand training programs
Disruptive technology creates operational challenges. The nature of work will continue to change and the need to “upskill” your human resources will only accelerate as new technology replaces many traditional jobs.
The advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT) is clear; the human response is not. Many schools and organizations now embrace teaching through online video or hybrid courses which consist of both online and classroom experiences. Artificial intelligence systems monitor these programs and assess student performance. Employees are also self-training with online material.
You will need to maintain a flexible and agile mindset to keep ahead of changes. If not, a crisis can quickly develop.
The capacity to say “no” to the call of temptation and desire to quit is called willpower. It is the ability to find the energy, motivation, and enthusiasm to keep going even when you’re tired, anxious, and looking for a way out.
How to make it work for you: Do not quit when you feel you can no longer deal with a crisis. Instead, find ways to adapt to your new circumstances. Have the willpower to stay in the game but be flexible in your attempt to correct a situation according to your idea of “right.” Disruptive technology is changing the definition of what is “right” all the time.