Apple just announced that it has cumulatively sold more than 170 million iPads since the product first debuted in 2010. For context, if iPad Nation were a country, it would be roughly tied at No. 7 with Nigeria, set to eclipse Pakistan next quarter and Brazil the quarter after that.
This boldfaced proof of digital disruption’s power to upset markets has left companies in every industry struggling to keep up with a consumer population that is happily disrupting itself. For someone who spends his days researching digital disruption and modeling its effects, on the one hand, this is good news: Everybody believes in digital disruption. On the other hand, it raises a very real problem: Nobody knows what to do about it.
Today when I meet with companies bent on becoming digital disruptors, one of their first questions is no longer, "How much time do we have until we have to respond?" but rather, "How do we get started right now?"
There is no single answer to this. Some companies are best served by locating their disruption initiative outside the company in an innovation lab where it can quickly generate disruptive momentum. Others can get a boost of internal support by building an internal innovation team and drawing resources from a supportive corporate structure. And some companies can launch multiple focused disruptive initiatives across many different groups in the organization, each one tasked with a specific disruptive goal, as long as the culture of the company is ready to incubate the efforts.
There was a time when economies of scale swamped all other corporate attributes – and a time of stable competitive advantage – where sticking to a single core competency was sufficient. Big companies dominated. Sure, they were slow to react to market change, but they had huge cost advantages and could lock down distribution channels, suppliers, and other sources of strength.
But that is last decade’s thinking. Seventy percent of the companies that were on the Fortune 1000 list a mere 10 years ago have now vanished – unable to adapt to change. In those 10 years we’ve seen digital disruption change the business landscape. We’ve watched the Internet become pervasive, embraced cloud-based applications that update multiple times a year, acquired mobile devices that connect everywhere in the neighborhood and around the globe, and embraced information workers who use their own tools to do corporate work on their own time.
Today, companies must break away from the assumption of sustainable competitive advantage and embrace adaptable differentiation, i.e., develop an agility advantage. But what does this mean? Forrester defines business agility as the quality that allows an enterprise to embrace market and operational changes as a matter of routine.
Summer's winding down and it's time for people to get serious about closing out the year and looking forward to a digitally disruptive 2014. I can tell because the phone is ringing off the hook these days and nearly every call has the same focus: What steps can we take now to get the jump on digital disruption?
First, I'm thrilled to get these calls because implicit in the question is the belief that digital disruption is real. I've found that to be the case in the many months I've been on the road speaking about my book Digital Disruption and calling people to adopt the digital disruptor's mindset. Very few people doubt the unique power of digital disruption, in fact, they often have better examples of disruption to offer me than the ones I came prepared to talk about.
But after the mutual thrill of excitedly comparing case studies, these conversations have rapidly settled down to the same question: What can we do about it? It's precisely in that spirit that Tom Pohlmann, Forrester's Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer, sat down with me to get the straight scoop on what companies can do right away to understand and act on digital disruption. The result is an 18-minute interview that we're serving up as a podcast under the Forrester Talks Podcast. You can either listen to the whole thing in one shot (episode 1) or consume it in bite-size, topic-focused chunks under episodes 2, 3, and 4.
Monday’s The New York Times offers a defense of authors’ rights from bestselling author and head of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow. In the piece, Turow interprets a Supreme Court decision that allows the importation of books purchased abroad for resell in the US, making it seem like all of Western culture would henceforth be at risk. Later the same day, I read a brief statement from News Corp in which the company threatened to make the FOX broadcast network a premium pay channel in order to get its just compensation for its creative works ahead of the likely decision that Aereo is not illegally capturing and restreaming broadcast content.
These individuals and organizations have the right to do what they feel they must as they pass through the phase known as denial. But may I offer this one small suggestion to help them through the stages of grief yet to come: Stop pretending that the foe you face won’t eventually win because it will. That goes for all of you. Digital disruption will eliminate your structural advantages someday, too.
We’ve been through this before, dating back to the first time the music industry sued someone to prevent the future. No, it wasn’t Napster or the users of BitTorrent in the 2000s. It was actually Diamond Multimedia, makers of the new PMP300 MP3 players, and the year was 1998. The argument then was the same as it is today: We, the people who currently benefit from an artificial monopoly in either the creation or distribution of value, don’t want that monopoly to end.