Disruption is all around us. Once a word used to describe a form of bad behaviour, now it’s a badge of honour. Every self-respecting start-up proudly wears the label. Every incumbent walks in fear of it. The economic uncertainties that still linger from the 2008 crash; geopolitical crises; the dizzying pace of convergence between information, software, machine, and human: the new normal is characterized by chronic instability (even if the old world was never quite as stable as we remember it).
Established players in substantial markets have always faced competition from new entrants. But disruption feels different, and is different. It’s easy after the event to say that a market has been disrupted, to identify the underlying reasons, and to point the finger at particular companies that did the damage. But how do you know whether the new kid on the block is just another wannabe competitor or is riding a wave that will sweep your business away? How can you tell if your business has invented the next big thing or if it will just fade away, like most start-ups?
The report looks at the underlying forces of disruption, how challengers exploit them, and the new business models they employ. We illustrate them with case studies of some would-be disruptors. And we offer a framework to allow CEOs and their companies to assess their situations. Established information businesses can consider whether insurgent competitors are responding to underlying changes that are likely to disrupt their markets and decide whether their own models need to change in response. Would-be disruptors can judge whether they are taking aim at the right market in the right way, or simply adopting a fashionable label.
The report concludes with essential actions of how to deal with potential disrupters.
- Address causes, not symptoms
- Analyse the features
- Look from the outside
- Listen to the conversation
- Deal with disruption.
Disruptors need to remember that they sometimes get disrupted too: it’s not always the first new entrant that does the damage. But all good start-ups are nimble and quick to change course when they see that the market is moving or that they have taken aim at a prize that would not be worth winning. Netflix disrupted Blockbuster’s store-based video rental business, but saw that its own mail-delivered service would eventually be overtaken by online streaming. A pivot may not be a retreat but rather a move to more fertile ground.
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