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How business crisis pressures can produce disruptive diamonds

Last year, researchers from the IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland, released a new paper called Lifting the lid on disruption fever.” The study covered a seven-year period from 2012-2018 and according to the authors, there should be a more evidence-based approach to managing disruption. In other words, “focus on the disruption that is occurring, not the disruptor.”

Industries across the board are constantly thinking about disruption – sometimes without even knowing it. But you don’t get to pick when to disrupt; to innovate.

For example, Aussie start-up Willow (co-developed by leading real estate fund manager, EG Funds) didn’t wait for the “right time” to change how people thought about the construction industry. If they did, the now global tech company would have probably missed being noticed – and publicly praised – by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

When in a panic to survive and streamline our core business, the last thing on our minds is innovation. Disruption waits for no one, especially not a pandemic. Innovative thinking should be top priority during a crisis if you stand to run ahead of the pack and disrupt how an entire industry conducts their business.

In fact, it is exactly at the point of crisis where we can see many household names have been born throughout history.

American seed accelerator Techstars discuss this pattern through a number of examples, from Nestle’s success in coffee after the Great Depression, to the way Uber and AirBnB responded to financially-stretched consumers post 2008. However, the one company that continues to stand out is Apple.

It’s a cautionary tale. While Apple dominates financially today, the company could have collapsed many times in its history. They were many years focused on survival before the turning point happened in the early 2000’s. Rather accidentally, while everyone was looking in one direction, something magical happened in another. And it was all thanks to the determination of one small team.

With the tech stock crash fresh in everyone’s minds, Apple was just barely breaking even. In 2001, they chose to concentrate a majority of their attention and resources on one product; the Macintosh Personal Computer (Mac). It was a risky call, especially as it left other innovation programs under-resourced, but it was justified as they panicked to keep their head above water.

Meanwhile, the portable music team knew it needed to work quickly to avoid Apple shutting them down. They were driven by passion. Even as the tragic attacks of 9/11 unfolded, an Apple team carrying key iPod prototypes from Taiwan landed on U.S. soil hours before the U.S. government shut down air travel nationwide. Nothing, not a financial crisis, a terror attack or lack of resources, could stop them. The iPod group’s persevering spirit proved essential in preventing a deadline delay that may very well have seen the whole project shut down. To date, Apple has sold more than 304 million iPods, making it one of their most successful products ever.

Businesses must always keep a finger on the pulse of the disruption that’s occurring. As illustrated by Apple’s unwavering commitment to innovate during crises, diamonds are made under pressure.

Forward-thinking organisations need to implement focused and structured innovation programs that align with business strategy to lead them into the future. Programs which ramp-up when the pressure builds.

Here, a programmatic approach is key. Systematically identify areas that could benefit from technological advancement then scan, vet, experiment, and incubate future technologies to build those applications across the enterprise. A crisis should never interrupt this process. It should foster it.

As we continue to focus on the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, it will be those companies with disruption-first mindsets that bring the next wave of innovations forward. Consider how your business can channel the pressure of this crisis to produce your industry’s next disruptive diamond.

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Rodney Walt

Rodney Walt

As an integral member of the EG business development team, Rodney’s core focus is leading the exploration of investment opportunities for real estate adjacent businesses. Prior to joining EG, Rod managed the capital of a family office fund, international equity portfolios and his own businesses. He has also held senior roles at Macquarie Bank delivering financial and operational management for specialist asset management funds in Australia. Rod has a Bachelor of Accounting in Science and is also a CPA accredited candidate.

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