Go beyond the obvious

Disruptions happen all the time; it’s the mindset and the ability to think beyond the obvious that is the key to success, says Minoo Dastur, Director, President and CEO, Nihilent.

Johannesburg, 19 Nov 2020
Read time 4min 50sec
Minoo Dastur, Director, President and CEO, Nihilent
Minoo Dastur, Director, President and CEO, Nihilent

The narrative right now across the world is centred on the COVID-19 crisis and how it has impacted businesses and is about how we are adapting to a ‘new normal’. While I understand the ramifications on our lives and the changes the pandemic has wrought, I would like to see the current business landscape through a different lens. We need to disengage from the ‘crisis-driven optics’. Most of the businesses blaming the pandemic-induced disruption are getting caught in self-imposed myopia, which restricts them to being trapped in a bubble as they refuse to move out of their comfort zones.

One of the fitting analogies I can think of is ‘glass and water’. Many of us are so focused on the glass that we refuse to see the fluid inside and completely ignore the advantages that could accrue by better understanding it. For instance, if you look at the business landscape over the last many decades, the companies that have created a business category and rode the success for many years tripped and fell through the so-called disruptive cracks, despite being leaders in their chosen categories. Take the case of a company like Nokia – it could not survive the onslaught of the new generation mobile revolution, despite being in the handset business for ages. It focused too much on the ‘glass’ and failed to see the constant changes in the ‘water’ – that is, the changing customer mindset, innovation led by technologies, constantly creating renewed relevance and systematically morphing to meet the new realities.

Trapped in their hubris?

The point I am trying to stress here is, oftentimes, we blame the disruption, but companies that are ahead of times are characterised by their fluidity and by their uncanny ability to use the disruption to great advantage. Innovators see the opportunities and hence they sail through crises with confidence, as they have built competencies and capabilities that make them nimble and able to navigate turbulence, by using the new currents to their advantage. For them the crisis is not an excuse; rather, facing the realities, gaining control and getting an edge over the competition matters the most. The defensive mindset comes with great perils and those willing to ignore the moats and walls may quickly gain the upper hand.

The businesses that are feeling dislocated are the ones that are unable to give up their conventional mindset and are rooted in past glory and fall through the cracks, rather than intelligently making up to the altered market realities. Learning and innovation are at the root of all change, improvement and being better, which are consequences of being a learning organisation.

Successful organisations have a consistent history of seeing things and problems differently, rather than getting caught in a ‘railroad’ thinking. I consider that disruption is not just about change or any disturbance. It is about seeing an outcome and a way to get there. Businesses that are struggling are only seeing the path and not the outcome. The path is the ‘glass’, which is a distraction, and we end up getting lost. By not being able to see through the impending changes, we play a game based on the self-imposed rules one has built and confine ourselves to a pre-set perimeter.

There are numerous examples of how newcomers have outsmarted the incumbents in the market for decades. Take the case of Amazon – it did not invent retailing or ecommerce, but it saw opportunities to breach its competitors' moats and to leave them trapped in the chains of their own past. Another great example is Netflix and how it took a leap of faith to a business completely driven by digital, from a brick-and-mortar regime, and created a new benchmark in online streaming services. The rest is history.

Take the case of Apple – it took a staggered approach and, despite that, carved out a niche and seamlessly created an ecosystem that thrives and keeps competition at bay. Today, Apple is one of the most valued companies in the world.

If I can cite another example, it's Tesla – how it saw the electric car market when the automotive giants were polarised on hybrid offerings. Tesla created an exclusive market within the automotive sector, with products way ahead of the times. Why others failed to see this – that is the question we should ask.

On the other side, look at companies like eBay, which was in the market for ages, and failed to see what Amazon saw. Ample examples, like Blackberry, Kodak, Sony, Nokia et al show us that it is not the disruption that shook their market leadership, rather, they refused to see an alternate reality and they never questioned the picture they had painted for themselves. You can say they were consumed by their hubris.

Parting shot

Crises such as the current pandemic are opportunities for successful leaders and organisations to take pause, and then continue to do business and focus on winning rather than whining. We are in this exact situation, where organisations that have a high degree of customer centricity are quickly adapting to the changes and marching forward. Disruptions happen all the time, it’s the mindset and the ability to think beyond the obvious that is the key to success.

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