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Is Modest Disruption a Thing?

On December 14, 2017, in Futures, HR Trends, HRExaminer, by John Sumser

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“Disruption, it looks like black magic, particularly when your lunch is getting eaten. In a uniquely human paradox, success is usually at the root of the problem.” – John Sumser

Disruption is what happens when prices fall and profits rise. Google is a good example of a company that has grown by exploiting disruption. They have the ability to accept far lower revenue per advertising transaction than any of the incumbents. When Google enters a market, the incumbents are in trouble.

It looks like black magic, particularly when your lunch is getting eaten. Disruptive moments are not really the result of a competitor’s behavior. Craigslist and Google ate old media’s lunch, in part, because they were in the cafeteria line when it was first served. Disruptive moments are a matter of timing. Capitalizing on them begins with simply being there.

The opportunity for disruption comes when incumbent organizations develop a clear picture of what they are doing. As soon as reality becomes fixed, the chance to undercut emerges. In a uniquely human paradox, success is usually at the root of the problem. “Getting it right” almost always produces myopia that prevents further exploration. Success prevents learning.

“Winning Generals Always Fight the Last War.”

That’s one way of encapsulating the disruptive moment. Being well prepared and planned for more of what happened yesterday makes any person or organization susceptible to an assault by entities that simply see things differently.

I was on the phone with a leader of one of the great HR and Recruiting professional associations. We talked about disruption, the need to rethink the entire profession and the importance of leadership in times of rapid change. He was proud of the energy being poured into the ‘strategic transformation.’

So I asked him, “Who is in charge of asking the hard questions? Whose job is it to ask if HR is relevant to anything anymore? Or, who is asking ‘What if HR is not strategic and never should have been?’ Or, ‘What if everything we know about organizations is an anachronism, an artifact of 20th Century Industrial thinking?”

“Oh,” he said, “Our transformation isn’t that big.”

I found myself remembering the (now deposed) big time editors and owners of newspapers and media I’ve worked with over the years. Certain of their role, they simply could not step up to the reality that being an anachronism is fatal.

There is no such thing as a modest disruption

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