I recently heard my all-time favorite excuse for why you can't disrupt yourself. It was in a session with 40 senior IT leaders of a Fortune 500 company including the CIO. Somebody brought up Uber and Airbnb, and most in the room nodded in agreement that a big company could learn a thing or two from these disruptors. That's when someone dropped my new favorite excuse: "But we can't imitate Uber and Airbnb because what they're doing is illegal."
Sure, it would be nice to just avoid taking the fast and bumpy road of disruption in favor of staying in the smooth parking lot of denial. But that's not really an option because the lessons of Uber, Airbnb, and other disruptors apply to everyone in every industry.
I don't mean to sidestep the legal question, but I do mean to point out that it's hardly the issue here. Uber and Airbnb are coming under fire because they're using cheap technology and existing resources to make their customer's lives dramatically better, one positive experience at a time. That's the real issue here, and it's the one companies of any size should focus on.
YouTube finally announced this week that it would allow channels to charge monthly fees to access content on YouTube. Some have predicted that YouTube’s subscription model would undercut its ad model in an echo of the infamous pay-wall problem that has bedeviled online newspapers as they shifted from ad-supported to paid. Others have suggested that this shows that YouTube is up against an advertising wall of its own making — advertisers will only pay so much to advertise against this amateur and semi-pro content (and to be fair, I am in this camp even though I don’t think this fact is dire). And still others gleefully wait to watch as YouTube learns how hard it is to get people to pay for things online.
In fact, all three of these things are minor asides in YouTube’s decision-making, as I see it. Instead of reacting to these and other constraints, YouTube is proacting on imminent opportunity. YouTube is basically making a grab for more of everything that matters:
More business model options. TV is both ad-supported and subscription-supported, and that works just fine. It gives companies like HBO the creative flexibility to generate content that advertisers may not be ready for, and it gives companies like Scripps the freedom to promise more home-focused entertainment that home-focused advertisers care about. That flexibility is crucial to the ongoing success of those companies, and it will be crucial to YouTube as well. Although in YouTube’s case, I would be surprised if the revenue balance in the one- to two-year time frame exceeded 10% or 15% subscription to advertising.
If you’ve turned on reality television lately (and I’m sorry if you have), you have seen a lot of overconfident folks who think highly of their ability to cook, sing, model, dance -- whatever -- when in actual fact most of them stink. The spectacle of these shows comes from watching to see if these people ever accept the painful gap between their perceived and actual abilities.
From data we have just published today in a new Forrester report, Assess Your Digital Disruption Readiness Now (client access required), it turns out that digital disruption is like reality TV in at least this one way: There is a significant, even painful, gap between how ready some executives think they are to engage in digital disruption and the actual readiness of the enterprise.
This disparity rears its ugly head at a crucial time. As Forrester principal analyst James McQuivey has recently written in his book Digital Disruption, digital disruption is about to completely change how companies do business. Digital tools and digital platforms are driving the cost of innovation down to nearly zero, causing at least 10 times as many innovators to rush into your market while operating at one-tenth the cost that you do. Multiply that together and you face 100 times the innovation power you did just a few years ago under old-fashioned disruption (see figure).