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Innovation is a Mindset, Disruption is an Outcome: 10 Lessons from the World’s Most Innovative Companies

Brian Solis
Brian SolisPrincipal Analyst
As Principal Analyst and futurist at Altimeter, I study disruptive technology and its impact on business and society. In my reports, articles and books, I humanise technology and its impact on business and society to help executives gain new perspectives and insights. My research explores digital transformation, customer experience and culture 2.0 and "the future of" industries, trends and behaviour.

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Disruption is a gift that either you receive or give to someone else. It’s largely a choice and your fate is defined by your intentions and actions now and over time. But make no mistake. Disruption is an everyday threat and it doesn’t discriminate. In fact, it’s often targeted. Even the disruptors can be disrupted. There’s always a new Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and Netflix on the horizon. The founders and CEOs running these companies know that and so must you.

This is Digital Darwinism, an era when technology evolves and so do societies, cultures and markets as a result. It’s what we do – and what we don’t do – that define our fate and legacy.

Day-in and day-out, around the world, there are startups, hackathons, entrepreneurs, students and investors whose work and dreams aim at directly or indirectly disrupting you. It’s nothing personal in most cases. Someone, somewhere, right now, with a game-changing idea and a business plan, is gaining momentum and support. It’s just a matter of time until it becomes a threat. As Victor Hugo once said, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

It’s been more than 20 years since Amazon ushered in an era of e-commerce and changed shopping behaviour forever. August 2018 represented Airbnb’s 10th anniversary and the 20th for Netflix. Uber celebrates its first decade of disruption in March 2019. Every time we talk about technology and market disruption, we cite the same examples, over and over. Some of them are at least 10 years old now and are no longer the early disruptors they once were. Now, they’re global businesses, with everyday shareholder and stakeholder responsibilities and pressure.

But that doesn’t mean they can ease off the accelerator. Instead, innovation is in these companies’ cultures. As they grow, they’re diversifying their models and investments to remain competitive and innovative. So, their goal must be, beyond performance and growth, to prevent the same fate they once bestowed, and still will, upon more rigid and lethargic organizations and industries.

Adapt or Die: 10 Lessons from the World’s Most-Innovative Companies

To effectively compete, organizations, leaders, executives, boards, must foster unbiased leadership and cultures of innovation and experimentation.

In 2018, I published a years-long research project that studied how the world’s leading retailers were bucking the “retail apocalypse” aka “retail Armageddon.” The result, Leading Trends in Retail Innovation, shared the common traits these leading brands shared. But honestly, none of this is limited to retail. These best practices are shared by all incumbents and up-and-coming innovators alike, aiming to survive and thrive in an era of Digital Darwinism.

Acknowledging the requirement to maintain confidentiality about the organizations who contributed this data, here are the 10 lessons they’ve learned collectively.

They…

  1. Constantly map the customer journey to create smooth, cross-channel customer experiences.  
  2. Engage in deep consumer research for a unified view of the customer.
  3. Predict customer trends and behaviours.  
  4. Prioritize innovations that target the connected consumer.
  5. Invest in cross-functional innovation pilots.
  6. Prioritize innovations that target the connected consumer.  
  7. Cross-functionally unites the customer’s experience.
  8. Cultivate the necessary digital skills across the organization.
  9. Create a culture of innovation.
  10. Allow and provide incentives for ideas and risk-taking.

In an on-demand, mobile, social media, augmented, and virtual reality world, one where robots are everywhere, AI is thinking on its own and cars are driving themselves, customers and markets are still evolving. At the same time, digital Darwinism is inviting anyone with ideas and the means to support them to explore, without judgement or normal corporate restrictions, to push the world forward. The way I look at disruption is this: Ignorance is bliss until it’s not. Riding legacy momentum as a scalable business strategy is finite. I get that standing up and saying, “hey!” and questioning what everyone is doing and what you should be doing is seemingly an invitation for debate, derision, even restraint or worse. But: Adapt or die. Innovate or die! Whether it’s where you are or somewhere else, change is inevitable. Might as well shape it.

 

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