Creative Self-Disruption

LAGUNA BEACH – Like many readers, I still vividly recall when Nokia was the dominant player in mobile phones, with over 40% of the market, and Apple was just a computer company. I remember when Amazon was known only for books, and when dirty taxis or high-priced limousines were the only alternative to public transport or my own car. And I recall when the Four Seasons, Ritz Carltons, and St. Regises of this world competed with one another – not with Airbnb.

Now, I may be old, but I am not that old. These changes happened recently – and fast. How did they occur? Will the pace of change remain so rapid – or even accelerate further? And how should companies respond?

An industry can be transformed by top-down economic, financial, political, and regulatory changes. But companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, and Uber exemplify a different kind of transformation: agile players invade other, seemingly unrelated industries and brilliantly exploit huge but previously unseen opportunities. Importantly and counter-intuitively, doing so serves their own core competencies, rather than those of the industry that they seek to disrupt.

Indeed, rather than using existing approaches and processes to compete, these entrants created radical new game plans, rewriting the target industry’s rules. Their creativity and passion enabled them to subdue – and in some cases even destroy – less adaptable giants remarkably quickly.