When disruption strikes, especially due to something outside your control, it’s destabilizing, chaotic, and scary. But it can also be the invitation to something much greater: a fresh perspective and new growth opportunities. The keys to surviving disruption are flexibility, technology, and marketing. Let’s consider what that can mean for your business.
One of the main takeaways from the recent disruption in our global economy is that we have until now, enjoyed an extended period of unprecedented success. Now, just like in nature, there’s a natural process of streamlining. Think of it as an ebb and flow process, similar to low and high tide in an ocean. When it’s low tide and the water’s out, it looks like a desert where the water is never going to come back. And then when it does return, it’s high tide with water everywhere. In my opinion, that serves as a metaphor for what’s happening now in our economy. We may be at low tide now but it’s going to come back at the right time.
So let’s talk about disruption. What’s interesting, and most obvious, about disruption is that it’s a major disturbance. It changes your plans or interrupts events or your process, and it’s usually unexpected, unpredicted, and unwanted. At the same time, business leaders want to be disruptors, right? To be a disruptor is to create a product, a service, or a way of doing things that displaces the existing market leaders and, eventually, it will replace those people or that process or that way of doing things. It will innovate a whole new way of being or doing in the market. So disruption is not always a negative.
Ultimately, disruption is always transformational. That’s what we’re seeing even now during this time of “unprecedented times” (as many refer to it). Something to remember is that a lot of companies actually started during tough times, including Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce.
While I’m no economist, it’s simple to look at a graph of the stock market over the last hundred years, and see that it generally goes up over time. Yes, it goes up and down but, even if it drops, it still goes up for growth over time. That’s evolution. Further, I understand that down markets typically last about 18-24 months, while up markets generally last between 6-7 years. Until now, we’ve experienced more than 11 years of upward growth. It was inevitable, according to history and real economists, that we were going to experience a shift out of that comfort zone; that’s what is happening now.
Three Stages of Response
Another caveat, I’m no psychologist either. However, over the course of decades in business and observing humans in action, I’ve come to recognize there are typically three stages of response to unexpected disruption.
First, the initial shock and awe. Their status quo was just shattered, people have been shaken into new awareness, they’re questioning their safety, stability, and security. In a way, everything and everyone just stops breathing. It’s like the world stopped and has taken a big breath. People might over-respond by getting really frenetic in a panic response.
Next, people start trying to get a grip on what just happened. They ask questions like, what does this mean? Who is saying what about this? Is this a loss? A decline? How does it affect me? They’re either getting insight or making some judgments about what’s happening. News media starts reporting, which means conflicting information. People focus on gathering information at this point.
Third, critical thinking kicks into gear, and people can start making decisions. Naturally, we humans are always seeking safety and stability and security — that’s our biological programming. At this point, people recognize there’s a new normal happening. Disruption has changed the game. Now people are ready to think about what that means, solve problems, and get back to a new level of stability, security, and comfort.
Not everyone will feel every one of these stages, nor will they experience these stages the same way. And, the timeframe for this process is going to vary for different people. Depending on the person and their experience, their perspective, and their resilience, this could take a few minutes or a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months. By understanding these stages are natural, you give yourself the chance to regain your footing, so you can grow and act from resilience as well as understand how others might be reacting, responding, so you can give them some breathing room too.
Three Potential Action Paths
For organizations confronting the effects of disruption, there are three potential action paths. Naturally, they all start at the same place; at some point, there will be a divergence and where they end up will be dramatically different.
The first path is to hunker down, minimize risks, conserve resources, and wait for the disruption to pass; this path typically leads to becoming obsolete. The second is to continue doing business the way it’s been done, reacting to situations using old coping mechanisms and just trying to ride the wave; this path is a wild ride but the company survives. The third path is to get proactive, strategic, systematic and focused in taking action in determining how to use the generative force of disruption for innovation; this path positions the company for elevated growth.
Since time will pass no matter which path a company takes, the choice becomes: which path is best for your company? Waiting is not a passive activity. When you’re waiting for something to happen, there is a lot of things that happen at that time. So every company is going to have to make the choice of their path.
How do you evaluate the right path for your company? I would say it’s based on your perception, which is the result of your experience, mental attitude, skills, and willingness to adapt. Perception is everything. Your perception interprets your life events and circumstances, defines your experience, determines your mindset, expands or limits your possibilities, and guides you in decision-making. So what are you perceiving about the latest disruption? Is this disruption negative or is it surfacing new opportunities?
You can read every day about a manufacturing facility that was repurposed to make masks and ventilators, alcohol distilleries now making hand sanitizer, large conferences and events are going virtual. It’s knowing that what got you “here” is not going to get you “there” in the new normal. Your perception is going to be a significant determinant in choosing your path.
Three Keys to Pivoting Disruption
There are three keys to pivoting disruption into opportunity. The first is flexibility, which is about being open to seeing new possibilities, being adaptable to what’s happening, being ready to “twist” the resources you have into a new shape — whenever that might be. It’s about hearing your customer’s wants and needs and shifting your perception to create possibilities. Flexibility is about resilience and your “bounce-back” factor.
Second is technology, especially because we were already in a digital economy — now we are in a newly remote business landscape. Technology must be your friend. How can you strengthen your ability to serve your customers using technology? How can you automate tasks, make it easier for remote workers to be productive and collaborate? How can you strengthen your IT environment? How do you distill more information, more knowledge, more actual insight from your data? Essentially, technology creates connection between people, between data points, between operations in your company. So how can your tech be optimized, strengthened, innovated to provide better service and greater value?
The third is marketing since the heart of marketing is communication. How can you communicate more effectively? How can you share your market position, your solutions, your presence with greater distinction and differentiation? What vehicles do you have in place now? Your website, your newsletter, social media channels, brand ambassadors, case studies, videos, quality content. How can you repurpose what you have and how can you take it to the next level? How can your message cut through the noise that’s out there in the greater world while this disruption is occurring?
During times of extreme disruption, remember that the purpose of marketing is NOT about revenue extraction. Instead, marketing is about solving and serving, educating your audience, meeting them where they are to learn their concerns. Marketing should focus on expanding your audience and listening to what your community is doing. The marketing team should be involved in understanding how the path is shaping to be prepared to share that in right timing.
Business is still happening — it’s just that consumer priorities and buying patterns have changed. And maybe not even the buying patterns because that will vary by the industry. Your marketing shares how your company fits and leads in that context. Marketing illuminates all the hard work your company has put in to serve your customers and it’s a “we’ll leave the light on for you” kind of concept.
A fourth key is empathy. I believe people are always doing the very best they can with what they have and know in the moment. So extend people empathy to let them know you understand. If you can’t understand, just be with them. Crisis reveals (and amplifies) humanity. In the end, we’re all just walking each other home, right?
In summary, disruption can surface new opportunities, and growth WILL happen over time. Being proactive and strategic creates resilience and strength. It gives you a sense of power and, to some degree, control. Perception is everything. Pivoting in business takes flexibility, technology, marketing, and, ideally, empathy.
If you want to talk through your business pivot points, let’s have a conversation! I welcome the opportunity.
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