Why You Can’t Ignore Digital Disruption

March 1st, 2017

Topics: Culture Customer Social

I saw an interesting comment on Linked-In recently. In response to a post about a firm’s digital disruption action plan, someone wrote: “What a bunch of baloney! What disruption? Can anyone explain to me what all this disruption talk is even about?”

It reminded me that, while many people talk breathlessly about the potential and perils of digital disruption, others don’t sense a threat, or they see it as just a bunch of hype. This is often especially true in businesses that don’t depend on digital capabilities today.

So, at the risk of soliciting an infinite number of similar comments, here is my stab at bringing digital disruption and its implications to life:


Imagine that you are watching the largest protest march in history pass by your organization’s front door. Literally millions and millions and millions of people.

The marchers are all holding up devices such as smart phones, tablets and laptops, and chanting: “What do we want? – EVERYTHING!” “When do we want it? – NOW!”

They are doing all kinds of things on their devices as they march.

They are communicating constantly with a wide range of people via emails, texts, social media, blogs, and chat rooms.

They are starting and nurturing relationships – from informal associations, to building their business network, to finding a lover or a spouse.

They are liking, forwarding, and commenting on content and information that they come across.

They are also creating and sharing their own content such as videos, articles, photos, blogs and graphics.

They are sharing all of this content with a network of people they know, and an infinite number of people they have never met.

They are multi-tasking – streaming music, movies, tv and games to one device while simultaneously having conversations and searching for information on another.

They are searching for, immediately finding, and citing as fact an answer to every single question they have – although sometimes, it turns out, the answer is not actually correct.

They are playing games – from solitaire by themselves to elaborate multiplayer role-play games with thousands of other people playing at the same time.

They are gathering news from a huge number of traditional and non-traditional sources. Many are getting news from sources that reinforce their pre-existing values and opinions.

They are sharing and citing information from their news sources as gospel, although it sometimes lacks substantiation. Others are sharing, sometimes directly contradictory news, from alternative sources.

They are jumping onto trending issues and topics on social media sites, often voicing blistering criticism. Many of the issues go viral and escalate at a breathtaking pace, with some reaching crisis status.

Impacted people and firms are either apologizing, trying to spin the issue away from themselves, or joining the conversation and using creative counter-measures to impress and win back the crowd.

The marchers are researching, shopping for, and buying all kinds of things – from books and electronics, to toilet paper and clothes, to travel and cars, to insurance and mortgages, to real estate and investments.

Almost everything they buy is delivered to their front door for free within 2 days, if it can’t be delivered via email, download, or app, immediately.

They are using ratings posted by strangers to help determine the purchases they make. They are rating the products and services they buy to help others who are shopping.

The crowd is unearthing and sharing what used to be hidden business costs such as fees, commissions, margins and mark-ups. They are demanding that firms reduce or remove these costs, and they are moving their business to firms that do.

The crowd is shopping on platforms that provide direct, transparent, head-to-head product and service comparisons, pricing, discounts, quality scores, and consumer ratings for a multitude of brands.

They are moving their shopping away from the firms they used to trust, and many of those are in serious decline or have disappeared. The crowd does not seem to miss them.

The crowd is jumping from one experience to the next to find exactly what they want – now. They have no tolerance for delays, incomplete information, or less than 24 hour a day/7 day a week access.

Their attention span keeps shrinking. It’s down to about 8 seconds (for now). The duration and depth of their brand loyalty is shrinking as well.

Most of them are typing, but many are talking to Artificial Intelligence (AI) services. They are constantly discovering and adopting new technologies like these as they explore, observe and share.

In fact, the mob has made one thing obvious. For the rest of human history, consumer technology, innovation and adoption will outpace enterprise technology, innovation and adoption. The consumer is now firmly in control.

As you watch the mob pass by, you begin to recognize all kinds of people.

At first you notice the geeky, early-adopter types.

Next you see the teenagers and the college students, and then the urban hipsters and the celebrities.

But then you start to see the true diversity of the mob. Every dimension of ethnicity, gender, age, income, generation, orientation, nationality, heritage and language is there.

It strikes you that far more people than you expected are people who look just like…well…like you.

That’s when you start to notice that many of your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues, even your co-workers and employees are there. You see members of your own family in the march.

You begin scanning the crowd looking for your competitors – and especially for your customers.

You start to feel nervous. None of the experiences your firm offers are the ones these people are gravitating to and using. Your firm is not positioned in the market where these people are marching.

You start to worry that competitors may start offering the kind of experience the mob wants. Not just better experiences than yours, but those offered by the most popular and successful firms out there.

Then it hits you.

What happens if this rapidly changing set of expectations and behaviors doesn’t align with your organization? What if your proven value-proposition just doesn’t resonate in this new world?

What if your business, your entire industry, stops being relevant unless you reinvent yourselves to fit in a digital-centric, customer-driven world? You start to name several well-known firms that didn’t make it, and its easier than you thought it would be.

Doubt fills your mind.

You’re pretty sure that your organization doesn’t have the talent and the resources – and you personally may not have the experience and perspective – to disrupt yourselves and drive that transformation.

Finally, you see it all.

There is a gap growing between your organization and the rapidly changing world around you. Just building a new website and developing an app isn’t going to close that gap.

You have to rethink and potentially reinvent your business from the ground up. Talent, operations, finance, service, experience, messaging, distribution, products – everything needs to be reconsidered.

If you don’t, someone is eventually going to jump in and fill that gap. Either competitors you know, or new entrants who see your vulnerability.


Feeling a little dizzy by now? Good! You’re starting to grasp the implications of digital disruption.

Still not convinced?

Slow down and really observe the scene the next time you walk through a busy city or a crowded airport, or ride on a rush hour commuter train, or visit a high school or college campus, or go to a crowded mall, or hang out in a coffee shop, or visit a start-up incubator.

The mob is there, and this is exactly what they are doing.

Thanks for listening.

Originally published February 28, 2017

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