Disrupt, or be disrupted.

High school reunions are interesting events. They often bring back memories, both good and bad.

But there’s only so much we could do with reminiscing the past.  I find the present and the future, far more interesting.

I was at one such reunion recently.  When a dozen of high school friends in late forties gather over dinner, one subject inevitably popped up.   No, it is not mid-life crisis. We’re too busy with work and family to recognise the crisis.

It’s reinvention.

When a journalist friend shared about the imminent demise of print newspaper, my instinctive response was: “Perhaps it’s time to reinvent yourself.”  And right after I said that, I felt as if I was giving the same advice to myself.

The topic of reinvention isn’t new.  It’s just that, the need for reinvention seems to become ever more pressing now, for organisations as well as individuals.

I believe it was Clayton M. Christensen who first coined the term ‘disruptive technologies’ in 1995, the same year that I started my working life.  Two decades later, today, it has become a new norm.  And the word ‘disrupt’ has become sort of a buzzword, in the same way that ‘business process reengineering’ and ‘transformation’ had been in the 80’s and 90’s.

We now live in the age of disruption.  The impact of technology-enabled disrupters such as AliBaba (world’s most valuable retailer that has no inventory), AirBnB (world’s largest provider of accommodation that has no real estate), and Facebook (world’s most popular media company that creates no content) is felt globally.  CEO’s and business leaders are sleepless over the threats and opportunities presented by big data, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things. Coders and techie geeks are supercool and in sharp demand.  So are gamers and data scientists.

The writing is on the wall, literally.  I actually saw that in the office of a promising tech start-up.  And it reads: “Disrupt, or be disrupted.”

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It’s innovate or dissipate. Adapt or die.  Even companies with over a hundred years of success can vanish rapidly.  A popular example is Kodak, that didn’t survive the advent of digital photography.  In contrast, its rival Fujifilm remains strong and relevant, by adapting their knowhow in film processing to venture successfully into cosmetics and skincare.

What is true for businesses is equally so for individuals, if not more.

Reinvent, or be retrenched.

In other words, we need to be willing to periodically reinvent ourselves, or be prepared to be fade into obsolescence.  The roles we play in organisations may change, but one thing remains constant – the need to create value. Those who successfully evolve to create value for the organisation in the ‘new world’ will remain relevant, and possibly more valued.

Unless insulated from competitive pressures, most organisations need to continuously drive for greater efficiency and effectiveness.  That hasn’t changed for centuries.  Those who don’t or fail to reinvent themselves, shall be vulnerable to the brutal effects of automation, outsourcing, and right-sizing.  It’s nothing personal.  Even family-owned businesses are not spared.

The casual dinner conversation has sparked off a serious thought.  A timely wake-up call.  It got me mulling over these few questions:

  1. Is it time to reinvent myself, again?
  2. If not now, when?
  3. How can I radically create more value in the work that I do now – for my clients, my company, and myself?
  4. If I’m not constrained by past experiences, who would I be and what might I do differently?
  5. How can I best contribute to the betterment of the world?

I have a strong bias for experimenting, and learning through doing.  But I also find occasionally pressing ‘pause’ and doing a little disruptive introspection’ can do a lot of good for the soul.

Disrupt, or be disrupted.  I choose the former. What about you?

I invite you to ponder over these questions too.

If not now, when?

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