Disruption: no one is essential
The myth of digital transformation
For several years now, companies and leaders have heard the slogan of “digital transformation” over and over again: It is essential to adopt the codes of the digital economy, to use the most advanced technologies, to work in agile mode like Californian startups, to adopt cool managerial postures which put forward “the human”… This slogan is false, misleading and dangerous for companies and managers. False because it masks the reality of the period in which we are living. We are not in a period of digital transformation or even a digital revolution, we are entering a period of massive disruption accelerated by digital. Deceptive because it suggests that it is possible to consider this “transformation”. And dangerous, because it leads companies to make decisions that precipitate their decline (the same as Kodak in its day!)
The difference between this supposed transformation and the disruption we are actually experiencing is huge. A transformation supposes that it is possible to start from the old model (model, organization, product, business model, etc.) in order to reshape it and adapt it to the new world: this is the challenge for companies today. The disruption is much more violent and radical: it supposes that it is not possible to transform, but that on the contrary it is necessary to make obsolete, to make the old disappear in order to let the new emerge by using technology.
The “increase” bias (when disruption is always others)
Faced with this situation, professionals spontaneously adopt a cognitive bias: that of increase thanks to technology. They absolutely want to increase the existing without ever asking the question of its relevance at the time of disruption. They speak of increased manager, increased HR, increased marketing, increased financial director … While the objective of disruption, further exacerbated and accelerated by the arrival of powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence, is to get rid of manager, HR, marketing and finance directors. If there were still water carriers or photo printing shops (Kodak late), it’s a safe bet that by interviewing their leaders, they would talk to us today about augmented water carriers or enhanced photo printing with AI. Both are missing. Disruption makes fun of the existing.
No one is essential
The first attitude to adopt in the face of disruption, personally or as a company, is to tell yourself that no one is essential: just because you have a prestigious position, diplomas that sound like titles. old regime or many employees under your responsibility that the disruption does not concern you. Just because a product has been an international bestseller for years does not mean it cannot be replaced by an app or a platform. It is not because a use is essential today that there is no other means of providing for it. Denial (coupled with arrogance) is spontaneous among most leaders, especially in traditional sectors: bankers repeat over and over that there will always be a need for banks and lawyers that justice without lawyers is impossible. It is this “there will always be” that is the strongest sign of a coming disruption. Impermanence is everywhere but no one wants to see it. The concepts that surround us have a lifespan but we assume that they have existed since and forever (be it banks, democracy, employees, etc.). The disruptors attack precisely the oldest and established uses to invent others which in the process kill the old. The entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists of SIlicon Valley take the list of all the sectors of the economy, the uses and the functions in the company and ask themselves for each “how to disrupt them, how to make them disappear by making them obsolete” . It is therefore for companies and professionals to start by imagining themselves already obsolete, to make themselves obsolete otherwise someone else will take care of it. Everyone must ask themselves where their added value will move, knowing that their current added value will no longer exist, rather than absolutely seeking to continue to exist in the world of tomorrow by simply adding technology.
Experts never see their own disruption
The second attitude to adopt when faced with disruption is to understand that it most often comes outside the expertise that is targeted. This is the most counterintuitive point for businesses. To prepare for disruption and in general for digital, they recruit and charge specialists in their field to lead the transformation, they ask the professions to imagine their future in a digital world … While the expertise of each profession is in reality a handicap to imagine his future. Blind expertise, she offers an approach to a subject so precise, honed and habitual that it prevents us from seeing it otherwise. To the same problems, always the same solutions: those of the experts. It is on this weakness that the disruptors rely: they allow themselves to think the inconceivable for the experts of a particular field and thus give themselves the opportunity to make this field and its processes obsolete. Uber was not launched by transportation experts or Airbnb by hospitality experts. Disruption always comes from outside and surprises established actors because it explodes all their certainties. Faced with this situation, the best way for companies to prepare for it is therefore to call on the outside world by seeking a specific skill: the ability to anticipate where value will move in the future. Many companies go wrong in seeking this skill from consulting firms. It is a mistake. None of them anticipated the slightest disruption. If taxis had asked them a few years ago to imagine their future, none of them would have proposed to create an application that would put them in touch with their customers (i.e. invent Uber). On the other hand, the skill “to see where the value is moving in the future” is very common among entrepreneurs. They are the ones that companies should call upon to envision their future, not the consultants or other experts.
Amplify disruption to survive
No one is spared from disruption. It is the dominant paradigm of our time. Constantly reinventing yourself by making yourself obsolete has become the norm. The mistake not to make is to want to prevent or slow down its advent (some even call for lobbying and legislation!). On the contrary, it must be amplified, accelerated. To be reassured, there is excellent news: since everything needs to be reinvented, the pace is stepping up and affects all sectors, many opportunities are emerging everywhere and for everyone, as long as we are ready to abandon the old. , without regret.
Entrepreneur and lecturer, graduate of Sciences Po Paris and the University of Quebec in Montreal, Stéphane Mallard created Disrupt Agency after having held several positions in digital. It works in Europe and the United States with companies, universities and the general public to raise awareness of digital issues.