50th St. Gallen Symposium "Freedom Revisited": 7–8 May 2020


Disrupt or get disrupted?

Change affects everyone, but disruptions re-define the rules of the game and alter the competitive landscape forever. In a world where the changes happen at a dazzling pace, disruptions can be both a challenge and an opportunity. The notion of disruption has become a buzzword, but not without a reason. Humanity is facing an imminent face-off with technology. The divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is ever expanding. How can organizations and societies – whether big or small – survive and grow to achieve their purpose in this state of constant turbulence? How can disruptions be and stay “good” in times of exponential change?                                 

The phenomenon of disruption has been contemplated for decades and has increasingly gained eminence. Noted Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter elaborated on the concept of ‘creative destruction’ – where the old gives way to new. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen coined the concept of disruptive innovation (Source). According to Christensen, disruptive innovations suddenly create unprecedented affordability and accessibility for an offering that was previously exclusive. Such demand side disruption uproots the established players. He categorizes innovations as ‘market creating’ innovations (those that transform existing offerings), ‘efficiency’ innovations (that do more for less) and ‘sustaining’ innovations (that have historically driven profitability). Professor at University of Toronto, Joshua Gans expanded the concept of disruption to include supply-side disruptions (Source). He propounded that the disruptive innovation impact customer preferences and expectations in unforeseen and radical ways.

How can the players respond to the various disruptive forces in the ever-changing battlegrounds? Progressive Leadership, Innovative Culture and Strategic Execution play pivotal roles in shaping the impact and sustainability of organizations and societies. Challenging status quo and rewriting the rules requires peripheral vision to anticipate risks and dogged pursuit to understand customer needs. Leaders need to inspire trust, lead from the front and be courageous. Backed by a culture that harnesses the collective intelligence of people, innovative organizations scout the horizon continuously to stay ahead of the disruptive waves and quickly ‘unlearn’. Innovative ideation needs effective execution to take on the challenges on-ground.  An idea without execution is a mere intention.

How can disruption be put to ‘good’ use? In hindsight, was nuclear power a ‘good’ disruption? Looking through the crystal glass – are we the last fully ‘human’ generation? We all hear of Big Data, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Nano-robotics – however, we are still grappling with the ethical dilemmas that come with such technological transformations. Will wearables become ingestible? Will these disruptions reach all of us sooner than we think? How fast will these innovations truly disrupt our collective consciousness?

This is the ultimate dilemma of disruption – it often leaves us with more questions of “how” and “why” than it unravels.

Challenging status quo and rewriting the rules requires peripheral vision to anticipate risks and dogged pursuit to understand customer needs.