Those of us who work in Enterprise Architecture are often asked to explain what EA is all about and how it works, and at the 6th DataBeersBCN event I had an opportunity to give a novel perspective – taking in evolution, intelligence and theories of warfare along the way – in the challenging Pecha Kucha format.
The idea of Pecha Kucha is “20 slides, 20 seconds each” (hence the 400 seconds) and even for someone like me who has been presenting at conferences around the globe for years it presented interesting new challenges, not least of which was the need not to ad lib.
When presenting, subject knowledge, preparation and careful exposition are key – as is making sure that you are carrying the audience with you – but with only 400 seconds to convey some deep ideas to an international audience of non-native English speakers, knowing exactly what you are going to say becomes crucial.
Normally I would just speak to my presentation content, expand on those things that seem to elicit most interest and subsequently de-emphasise detail to keep on schedule, but in this format there’s no room to manoeuvre and no room for error. I can’t recall precisely how much preparation I put in, but it was all worth it in the end.
The slide-deck used for the presentation may also be found here.
These DataBeers group events (of which the Barcelona group is just one) are proving to be informative, entertaining and massively popular. DataBeersBCN #6 at the Antiga Fabrica Estrella Damm had about three hundred people in the audience – there would have been more but that was full house.
Since the accidental removal of part of my right thumb in a self-inflicted mishap with a mandoline1Microsoft Word did not know the word mandoline and sneakily replaced it with mandolin. Why one would have a mandolin in the kitchen and how one could have such an injurious mishap with one is far from obvious. Perhaps if the mandolin were strung with atomically thin carbon-monofilament strings I might strum myself to partial thumb-loss, but it seems otherwise improbable. (in the kitchen3To complete the Clue/Cluedo trifecta.), keyboard work has been severely hampered; my plan to post something in-depth every week or so was significantly disrupted. Now however, though the keys be drenched with sweat and tears – but hopefully not blood – as I tap gingerly at the keyboard, I’m back.
Today I’m, looking at disruption and the work of Bower & Christensen2With side orders of Douglas Adams, Sun Tzu, Plato, Robert Browning, Eric Hoffer and dark energy, and other stuff..
Not all changes are disruptive, and only some changes are predictable, but to confront significant change (including disruption) successfully – i.e. better than the competition – business needs a touch of divine madness to outthink the competition and balanced enterprise reach to effect inspired change.
I know I should read more than two words before leaping to conclusions but I couldn’t help it. What does it mean? Can you really? So what?
Eventually I decided the answers are: it depends, maybe sometimes, and “If you’re lucky, it might save your bacon.” That, and disruption isn’t the fundamental problem; the problem is how to respond.
In hindsight, what annoyed me was the thought that, since disruption generally can’t be predicted5Disruption being merely one aspect of the future covered the Danish saying, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” which probably was not due to Niels Bohr (or Sam Goldwyn, see the Quote Investigator for more information)., there was probably some gross and potentially misleading over-simplification going on, and in that respect I was right. There’s significant ambiguity in both words, and the result is a degree of opaqueness unhelpful to businesses that recognise the threat of disruption and deserve good, i.e. better, advice on how to address it.
So I’ve done some digging, and now I know what’s going on it’s clear my goal must be to disrupt disruption à la mode, reassemble the pieces into something closer to the original and more recognisably useful, and then to flesh-out the required response to the real problem: the pace of change generally.
The key point is that it is indeed useful to be able to foresee disruption, but it’s more important to see that you must be able to change not just business structures, or systems, etc. but the whole business – and from within – without immediately destroying the original, if you want to survive.
The ability to make such internal change is essential because business drivers include not only the disruptions you can foresee and analyse but also those you can’t, together with all the other changes that just happen and are just truly unpredictable, such as fashions, scandals, genuinely new fundamental technologies6Such as HP making memristors commercial., unexpected legal judgements7Such as the recent European decision invalidating the Safe Harbor arrangements between the US and Europe., etc. i.e. just change.
The real challenge is the scope of change that businesses must be prepared to contemplate and manage effectively to survive in an increasingly dynamic environment.
The root cause of my annoyance is that the original, excellent idea of disruptive innovation introduced by Bower and Christensen in the Harvard Business Review8Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen, Disruptive Technologies – Catching the Wave in Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 1995, pp 43-53. Online here (pay wall). (henceforward BC disruption to distinguish it from any other sort) is now more than twenty years old, and as the idea has passed from academics to strategic thinkers to consultants, journalists and bloggers it has been distorted, deformed and debased9And, no, the idea has not been “disrupted”..
Disruptive innovation has been turned into mere “disruption”, apparently synonymous with nothing more than inconvenient change, in the process becoming little more than a mantra, a chant to focus business meditations, and whilst I am happy to facilitate and contribute to discussions during strategic retreats, one needs to pay more than lip-service to the idea if it is to be effectively exploited.
The degradation of disruption is a great pity because the original idea still has great merit, if one takes the time to reflect on it. The essence of it is as follows.
Disruptive innovation, the original idea
Established businesses often, perfectly rationally, choose not to innovate in a certain direction because it doesn’t meet their or their customers’ needs; as Bower & Christensen put it,
…it is nearly impossible to build a cogent case for diverting resources from known customer needs in established markets to markets and customers that seem insignificant or do not yet exist.10Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen, Disruptive Technologies – Catching the Wave in Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 1995, pp 43-53. Online here (pay wall).
But, if it does meet someone else’s needs, they may invest, and then improve it until it threatens the market of the established business, which may not be able to respond in a timely manner and so irretrievably lose market share (even all of it) and associated profit.
This leads to the idea that if you can “predict” disruptive innovation you have better prospects than if you can’t – if you can also act effectively on that prediction.
Bower and Christensen set out how to spot certain types of disruption, so that businesses could then act accordingly, but then pointed out that most businesses aren’t actually able to act effectively because disruption is exceptional and they are not set up for change. As we will see, this means that businesses need to learn how to be rationally irrational11A cool head in a crisis is advised by “Don’t get mad, get even.” But there is also more than a little value in the alternative formulation, “Don’t get even, get mad.” Sun Tzu has written eloquently on projecting the appearance of foolishness or ignorance in the furtherance of warfare, beginning with the idea that “Warfare is the Way of Deception” [0.13]. See here. – and act accordingly.
That was 1995. Now we are well into the 4th Industrial Revolution – much discussed at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos-Klosters last year12See e.g. the World Economic Forum agenda item, The Fourth Industrial Revolution online here.. Today, the synergisms of powerful general purpose computing (local and cloud), internet connectivity, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the embeddability of technology are increasing the attack surfaces of more and more businesses.
Connective technology is the dark energy of accelerating disruption, and businesses need to adapt or suffer the consequences, because just like cosmic dark energy, there’s only going to be more of it.
The key points are
Businesses perceive greater vulnerability to disruption than ever before
Higher baseline risk needs to be factored into more investment decisions, whether specific disruptions are perceived or not; don’t be gulled by a history of success
Only some disruptions are foreseeable and only some of them are quantifiably predictable but all change is managed better by those who plan to enable change
The increasingly dynamic business landscape requires strategies that support dynamic responses
Implementing such strategies requires greater enterprise flexibility from improved strategic, operational and tactical planning
The greatest issues are not whether or how or to what extent disruption can be predicted, they’re whether and how, and how well business can actually respond. Can it change fast enough to defend against or, better still, exploit an opportunity identified elsewhere?
This depends on numerous factors far more fundamental than the technical capabilities required to deliver a new product or service to an established market.
Hence the (other) mantra – agility, which, being another lately trite concept, should be retired in favour of the explicit rubric of balancedenterprise reach13c.f. Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto“a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” – meaning the ability to move quickly and fluidly towards a goal while maintaining equilibrium, i.e. to achieve one’s objectives safely and efficiently – and serious discussion of the three levels of planning needed to achieve it.
Firstly, business needs a strategy for dealing with disruption. Since, in military terms, strategy serves the achievement of political objectives and goals, what’s the specific major goal that needs to be achieved? Answer: possession of a robust ability to maintain shareholder value despite significant shifts in a dynamic environment, i.e. to have balanced enterprise reach.
Operational planning then deals with the formation of forces to achieve particular goals. Dealing with disruption effectively means being able to rapidly deploy self-sufficient forces, effectively creating new businesses with independent sales, marketing, development, etc., while the parent organisation provides logistical support in terms of HR, financial management etc. to independent senior operational managers who establish their own values andset their own goals within the context of the overall strategy and the higher-level objectives they have been set as goals.
Finally, at a tactical level, the operational unit adapts to the real-time behaviour of the disruptor, using the flexibility and local (and hence responsive) command and control systems it has been supplied with, but manages independently.
The key features here are the provision of logistic support and effective independence of the operational units.
Secondly, the enterprise needs to change the way it thinks, so that it can properly conceive of internal disruptions to implement with the approach described above. As Bower & Christensen noted,
It should come as no surprise that few companies, when confronted with disruptive technologies, have been able to overcome the handicaps of size or success.14Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen, Disruptive Technologies – Catching the Wave in Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 1995, pp 43-53. Online here (pay wall).
Why? Because disruption is antithetical to business as usual; you simply can’t run an internal disruption according to the same set of values as the primary business – and if you force primary values onto the internal disruption effort it can’t be disruptive.
That is unless the enterprise is smart enough to understand that problem, and then to organise itself accordingly.
Here are the two things the enterprise must do.
Firstly, it must become rationally irrational, able to engage in intelligent15Intelligent in Douglas Adams’ sense of having dispensed with common sense, that frequently insurmountable obstacle to insight. See under Doublethink here.doublethink – not thinking out of the box, thinking, “There is no box.” – to simultaneously accept that the contradictory ideas of the established business model and the disruptive business model are both valid, otherwise only one model can survive – the existing model, because to choose otherwise is immediate suicide. Without a touch of divine madness16“And of madness there were two kinds; one produced by human infirmity, the other was a divine release of the soul from the yoke of custom and convention.” Plato (427 BC – 347 BC), Phaedrus, 265b (c. 370-365 BC). See here for a note, and here for access to full text by page number., internal disruption must wither and die.
Secondly, and in parallel with addressing the challenge of doublethink, the business needs to be able to partition itself and to redeploy resources at short notice; and the larger and more complex the enterprise the more the flexibility of deployment depends on how well its structures and functions are understood, so that the impact of redeployment can be (rationally) assessed.
Since the development of enterprise architecture was driven by the need to understand the complexities and inter-dependencies of military systems in order manage the design, procurement, deployment and tasking of military capabilities more effectively, EA is a natural candidate for providing the knowledgebase necessary to enable operational balanced enterprise reach17c.f. TIFKAA – The Idea Formerly Known As Agile (to steal shamelessly from the style of The Register.) .
Disruptor, disrupt thyself
Business leaders who say they are “intent on disrupting before they are disrupted”18See e.g. the article by Pierre Nanterme , CEO, Accenture here. need to know one thing: if you want to avoid being disrupted from outside you must learn how to disrupt from within. Disruption from outside is only possible because disruptors have different mindsets – they see certain value propositions as attractive, and you do not. So, whether or not you can identify or generate disruptive ideas, your mindset must adapt so that they can be assessed according to their own lights – not according to existing enterprise values.
To understand and counter external disruption, potential disruptees must learn how to work with multiple value sets simultaneously and how to deliver organisational change more quickly and more effectively.
It may be hard, but at least it will bring a degree of genuine predictability to the deliberate delivery of innovative products and services by established enterprises. And it’s far less inscrutable than crystal-ball gazing.
To conclude with a salubrious quotation,
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.19Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), Section 32. See also Wikiquote
Microsoft Word did not know the word mandoline and sneakily replaced it with mandolin. Why one would have a mandolin in the kitchen and how one could have such an injurious mishap with one is far from obvious. Perhaps if the mandolin were strung with atomically thin carbon-monofilament strings I might strum myself to partial thumb-loss, but it seems otherwise improbable.
With side orders of Douglas Adams, Sun Tzu, Plato, Robert Browning, Eric Hoffer and dark energy, and other stuff.
Disruption being merely one aspect of the future covered the Danish saying, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” which probably was not due to Niels Bohr (or Sam Goldwyn, see the Quote Investigator for more information).
Such as HP making memristors commercial.
Such as the recent European decision invalidating the Safe Harbor arrangements between the US and Europe.
8, 10, 14.
Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen, Disruptive Technologies – Catching the Wave in Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 1995, pp 43-53. Online here (pay wall).
And, no, the idea has not been “disrupted”.
A cool head in a crisis is advised by “Don’t get mad, get even.” But there is also more than a little value in the alternative formulation, “Don’t get even, get mad.” Sun Tzu has written eloquently on projecting the appearance of foolishness or ignorance in the furtherance of warfare, beginning with the idea that “Warfare is the Way of Deception” [0.13]. See here.
See e.g. the World Economic Forum agenda item, The Fourth Industrial Revolution online here.
c.f. Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto“a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
Intelligent in Douglas Adams’ sense of having dispensed with common sense, that frequently insurmountable obstacle to insight. See under Doublethink here.
“And of madness there were two kinds; one produced by human infirmity, the other was a divine release of the soul from the yoke of custom and convention.” Plato (427 BC – 347 BC), Phaedrus, 265b (c. 370-365 BC). See here for a note, and here for access to full text by page number.
c.f. TIFKAA – The Idea Formerly Known As Agile (to steal shamelessly from the style of The Register.)
See e.g. the article by Pierre Nanterme , CEO, Accenture here.