Disruptive Technology Is A Catalyst For Change, Not the Reason — How To Survive Digital Darwinism

Thanks to social media, mobile devices, apps, and the ensuing on-demand economy, customer journeys are radically shifting. Gone are the days of the traditional funnel. And, even though everyone knows that, many existing journeys managed by legacy brands are largely linear by design. The solution may be counterintuitive however.

Even though we’re deep within a digital economy, how businesses react and ultimately drive CX innovation is not solely determined by innovative technology alone. To truly get closer to modern customers takes a culture of true customer-centricity. That too is something that everyone already knows. The difference is targeting a new generation of customers and understanding them and allowing that empathy to guide innovation vs. iteration.

What’s the difference?

Iteration is using new technology to do the same things better. Essentially, upgrade and update the existing journey by bolting on new shiny things.

Innovation is doing something new that introduces new value. For example the mobile journey is of itself, is dynamic and comprised of many micro-moments where customers come in and out of using the small screen. Their attention and time is focused, but finite. Because it’s the small screen operating in a short attention span theater, traditional sites, existing language, and touch points in general, are clunky, unintuitive and not truly optimized for these moments. Designing an entirely native and human-optimized mobile journey would introduce new value.

Saying that we need to get closer to the customer is hardly enough to convince business leaders that the customer revolution they hear about is literally steps away from their office door. I know I’m not saying anything here you don’t already know. The difference is, however, that what started as a groundswell for business transformation from the bottom up has hit a ceiling. To break through it requires that someone ( read: you) has to make the case to bring change from the top down.

The future of business isn’t tied to digital-first or generic customer-centric approaches. So then, what’s the future of business?

A successful future is human-centered and prioritizes earning relevance by understanding how technology affects decision making and behavior. Doing so surfaces what you couldn’t see through a lens of business as usual…the recognition of new opportunities and the ability to strategically adapt to them becomes a competitive advantage.

But make no mistake: This is as much a technology revolution as it is a series of real-world revolutions that will eventually seize organizations, governments, and businesses.

Change can be organized into three categories:

1. Listening

2. Learning

3. Adapting

Look, I get it. Change is all anyone talks about today and we all know that talk is cheap. We also know that change is inevitable and that it is rarely easy. Among the greatest difficulties associated with change is the ability to recognize that change is needed at a time when we
can actually do something about it. All too often, by the time we realize that change is needed and that we must shift to a new way of thinking, it is already too late. Or worse, competitors recognize the need for change before us, and we are by default pushed into a position where our next steps are impulsive or reactive rather than strategic.

The volume of emerging technology is both awe-inspiring and overwhelming. As new technology makes its way into everyday life and work flow, devices, applications, and networks, it disrupts the norm and begins to impact behavior. It is this disruptive technology that over time influences how people work, communicate, share, and make decisions.

The question is at what point does emerging technology or new behavior become disruptive?

And, more importantly, what systems, processes, and protocols are in place that recognize disruption, assess opportunity, and facilitate the testing of new ideas?

The time to answer these questions is now.

In The End of Business as Usual, I introduced the notion of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than our ability to adapt. And the reality is that because of the role technology now plays in our lives, we forever compete for survival to effectively fight off Digital Darwinism.

Humility is a gift and it’s needed in business now more than ever. Disruption not only faces every business, its effects are already spreading through customer markets and the channels that influence decisions and behavior.

A recent advertisement produced by Babson College cited a rather humbling statistic:

Over 40% of the companies that were at the top of the Fortune 500 in 2000 were no longer there in 2010.

As we’re often painfully reminded, history has a way of repeating itself. Forbes published an article in early 2011 that served as a harbinger for the turbulent and transformative times that lie ahead.3 The opening line read,

The End is Near: Why 70% of the Fortune 1000 Will Be Replaced in a Few Years.

The author cited a study published in the book Built to Change by Edward E. Lawler and Christopher G. Worley. The study found that between 1973 and 1983, 35% of the top companies in the Fortune 1000 companies were new to the list. Over the next decade from 1983 to 1993, churn jumped to 45%, and then soared again to an astounding 60% between 1993 and 2003. If the current trend continues, more than 70% of Fortune 1000 companies will turn over from 2003 to 2013. As the author observes, “In other words, over three-fourths of the existing captains of industry will fall from their throne.”

They include:

Blockbuster, Borders, Compaq, CompUSA, E.F. Hutton, Hostess, KB Toys, Kodak, LIFE, Merry-Go-Round, Mervyns, Pontiac, Tower Records, Woolworths

This is about the survival of both the fittest and the fitting. It takes more than a new presence in channels to improve customer experiences and relationships. It takes courage. It takes persistence to break through resistance. But, in the end, it’s how you work with your leaders, or how you lead, to move toward an empowered and customer-centric culture that sets in motion real transformation.

You have a special path you must follow to set in motion the change that opens the door to improve experiences inside and outside the organization. You have two choices, well three actually…

1) Iterate

2) Innovate

3) Do both

Whatever you do, don’t confuse iteration with innovation and customer-centricity with customer empathy.


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