Last week, my friend and ace digital thinker Ian Patterson shared his story about introducing agility into his business. Today, he’s back to tell another firsthand tale, and this one is all about what it takes to turn disruption to your advantage — even if you’re a traditional company. Especially if you’re a traditional company.
Read on for Day Two of Ian’s Five Days Delivering Digital Transformation series.
Most sensible people understand that the Internet represents both opportunity and risk, blessing and curse, pleasure and pain. For me, this duality is perfectly encapsulated in the phrase “Digital Disruption.”
In 2014, on my second day of consulting with a highly respected and long-standing advertising agency, I experienced a fresh perspective on digital disruption, born out of a pressing need to remain competitively viable.
Half Full or Empty?
When you read the words “Digital Disruption” do you feel dynamic or defensive? Empowered or pessimistic? Some leaders have experienced both sides of the coin. For them it comes down to attitude and appetite.
If you wake up wondering if you’re missing an online opportunity, or feel at risk if you stop innovating, then you’re staring into the face of digital disruption. In fact we all are. If given the choice between disrupted and disruptor, it seems everyone wants to be the disruptor. Not surprising, but few relish the notion of getting his or her hands dirty. Often the best home security firms use ex-convicts and thieves to test their products. And what of the brilliant forger Frank Abagnale, Jr. (as depicted in the movie Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio), who was asked to consult for the government on counter-fraud. It seems you need to be one to think like one — and think like one if you hope to become one.
When the Managing Director of an 18 year-old ad agency gave me permission to review his business, I felt both excited for the opportunity and responsible for the results. It takes a confident leader to allow a consultant to shine a light in dark corners. People — let alone people who are senior business executives — with his kind of confidence are rare.
So on that day, the MD took a barrage of questions. Everything from hiring decisions to hourly rates. Even the name above the door wasn’t off limits! Throughout the process, I couldn’t help but compare the experience with that of a hacker, exploring new avenues and applying pressure to see where there are weaknesses.
That led me to thinking — if a business wants to become ‘the disruptor’ then the people in charge of that business need to think like one. If they want to reap the rewards, then they need to become the thing they fear most. Without sounding too like a line from a Bat Man movie, there’s some logic behind that statement. If you want to test a new website for security vulnerabilities, you need to become your worst security nightmare. If you want to test the viability of your business, you need to become your own fiercest foe. You need to prod and probe like a pro, until you find the weakness that will bring everything crashing down around you. In other words…
Take the Offensive
I spent my day with the MD exploring a wide range of offensive measures. These were geared towards taking back control, hurting the competition, fighting to flip an outdated advertising agency model and transform into a modern digital marketing machine.
In just this one day, we designed a plan to react to external and internal disruptive influences, and to reengineer the business to accept it’s digital destiny. If this sounds too much like fantasy to you, try it. Try spending even a single day hacking your own business model. Think like a start-up that isn’t inhibited by legacy infrastructure, office politics or a bloated brand rulebook.
In one day, what would you create? Would you invent something that reimagines your industry, something that would otherwise put you out of business? If you want to adapt and evolve to the big digital opportunity, then take a leaf out of that MD’s book and be more open to and accepting of change.