Thrive in an Age of Disruption


Disruption is the new normal. Everywhere we look we find traditional business models under threat from emerging players, technology creating new opportunities for fast-moving businesses and the creaking bones of industrial age enterprises labouring to stay current, fresh or even just relevant. The darlings of our blue chip stock markets have given way to tighter, more technologically aggressive firms who wield tech not for COMPETITIVE advantage but to create UNFAIR advantages. Facebook and Google are the obvious examples, but there are more. Many more.

Many of these massively scaled companies have locked their valuations away from the markets – creating a vibrant behind-closed-doors market where Venture Capital firms tease out $1 billion valuations. Just take a look at the Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club to get a sense of the scale in operation. Uber, with a current valuation of over $50 billion, leads the pack and now boasts a valuation way in excess of General Motors.


But while Uber, is on the surface, a business about transportation – and cars in particular – it is far from being a car company as we have known them. It is, in fact, a technology company. A software company. And a data company. It is disruption paradigms at every turn.

Even on a more micro level, disruption is taking place in our suburbs and in our streets. The NBN – when it arrives at it eventually will – will sweep non-digital businesses away in a tide of data. And those local institutions like post offices and newsagencies that are the hubs of our suburban malls, will be the first to go (if they have not disappeared already).


Disruption is not destruction.

It is possible to not only thrive in an age of disruption but to also prosper. And this is what I will be discussing at Newcastle’s DiG Festival on 12-13 October. In fact, the whole two days of the conference are devoted to the theme.

So if you’re wondering what disruption has in store for your career, business or enterprise, you might find this is the best investment you have made in years. See you there!

Three Reasons Distributed R&D is the “New Innovation”


We all know that innovation is good for business. We all know it’s good for our brands. And we all know it’s good for people – our employees, customers, suppliers and so on. But we also know that innovation is difficult. Problematic. And prone to failure. In fact, when visionary analyst, R “Ray” Wang looked into the data, he found that 52% of the Fortune 500 have disappeared since 2000. Such is the nature of this new form of “digital disruption” that new technologies and business models are decimating whole industries and categories. The iPhone as a single device, for example, says Ray Wang, killed 27 business models in one fell swoop.

The question that business leaders are asking is not just “WHAT is next” – but “is MY BUSINESS/INDUSTRY next”?

Time to slay the IDEAS dragon

Over the last 12 months or so I have been working to not only understand what is going on with the trends, technologies and consumer behaviours – but on methods that can help innovators from the front desk to the corner office – combat and address digital disruption. The solution requires a new approach to innovation. A rethinking of models – and even the adoption of business practices that we had thought were passe – uncool or even unnecessary.

But the very first act of the innovator is to slay the IDEAS DRAGON. It’s time we faced down the hard reality of innovation and entrepreneurship and realised that ideas are just not good enough. In fact, in pursuing ideas, we deny the true purpose of innovation – to address “problems worth solving”. The fact that many corporate (and entrepreneurial) initiatives and startups commence with an “idea” means that they are starting without the foundation of a burning platform. For entrepreneurs this means that the struggle to find product-market fit will take longer, and more difficult. And for intrapreneurs, those corporate, internal change makers, it means burning resources and opening yourself to a “career limiting” project. As David Burkus explains in this Harvard Business Review article:

When most organizations try to increase their innovation efforts, they always seem to start from the same assumption: “we need more ideas.” They’ll start talking about the need to “think outside the box” or “blue sky” thinking in order to find a few ideas that can turn into viable new products or systems. However, in most organizations, innovation isn’t hampered by a lack of ideas, but rather a lack of noticing the good ideas already there.

It’s not an idea problem; it’s a recognition problem.

Where there’s a burning platform there’s money to fix it

One thing that I have learned from my clients is that ideas have a currency – that of attention. A good, strong and catchy idea can take hold of the imagination of an entire Boardroom and ripple across an organisation. And as those waves spread, they become smaller. By the time they reach someone who is willing to take the idea on, it’s likely that the idea has lost its potency. It’s energy. It’s Board level support.

By establishing the Disruptor’s Handbook, my plan was to create a strategy and innovation firm focused on collaboratively helping work from the problem outwards. And by focusing on the “problems worth solving”, by seeking out the problems that keep C-suite executives awake at night, we realised that where there is a burning platform, there’s money to fix it. And the reason funding is available is that the product, service or experience has customers. Paying customers. And in the world of startups, that is known as product-market fit.

Think market-product fit first for success

Rather than looking for “product-market fit”, however, we should be reversing this. We need to be looking for “market-product fit”. We need to put the needs, expectations and demands of our market first. This has a range of benefits:

  • Reduced risk
  • Improved levels of word of mouth
  • Easier customer acquisition and retention
  • Early stage focus on delivering customer value over product features

With this in mind, much of our process with Disruptor’s Handbook has been designed to focus on what we call “marketing-led innovation”. And one key component of this strategy is the use of “distributed research and development”. In our eBook, Joanne Jacobs explains that taking this approach, almost any organisation can innovate like a startup:

[Distributed R&D is] … literally a mechanism where the prototyping stage of R&D is spread to an array of competing or collaborating innovators, with minimum viable products (MVPs) generated over a highly concentrated period.

And the proof is in the pudding. Partnering with Qantas on their first hackathon saw us working with senior business leaders and coders, entrepreneurs and other innovators to solve challenging and intractable problems that the airline had been struggling with. At the end of 24 hours of “distributed R&D”, teams presented 10 working demos to judges and Qantas executives. Many of these projects are now moving to commercialisation. The process is generating not just ideas but real businesses and real business value – and is doing so because:

  • The process slays the ideas dragon and focuses on problems worth solving
  • Problems that are “worth” solving have budgets and audiences attached
  • Market-product fit means that innovators are shipping “minimum buyable products” not just products that are “viable”.

Can Distributed R&D also work for your firm? Of course it can – contact us to find out more.

IT’s Big Secret – Platforming: Bringing IT and Marketing Together


The big IT companies have a secret. And it’s a secret that can radically transform your business. For the last decade or so, technology has been converging – with different technology stacks coming into alignment, sharing interfaces, connecting data and improving the process of software development and deployment. As a result, we have seen huge improvements in the capability of software to impact business. Just think about:

  • The rise and role of data in business decision making
  • The importance and focus on dashboards and data visualisation
  • The growth of mobile and location based information
  • The abundance of “internet of things” devices and sensors
  • The near ubiquitous adoption of smartphones.

Behind the scenes, technology companies have been “platforming” – turning their business processes and models into digital systems. They do this across four key business dimensions:

  • Social: The Social dimension has the potential to deliver powerful, personal yet scalable CONNECTION. It offers a single conversational channel, builds trust and offers a way to accelerate a resolution or conversion process
  • Mobile: The Mobile dimension delivers LOCATION. With a connected device in your pocket (close to your beating heart), a mobile phone is the convergence point where the digital and the “real” worlds collide
  • Analytics: The power of big data is not in crunching everything known about a customer. The real value is in delivering AWARENESS to a network. This effectively means creating USER context from the social, mobile and business data signals available
  • Cloud: And the cloud provides the mechanism for SERVICE. To remain relevant to customers, brands must re-acquaint themselves with the value of service. And Cloud provides the mechanism to do so.

But the challenge for marketers is that these dimensions are largely unconnected to marketing. They rightly belong to the company’s technology teams. Right?

Combining marketing and IT capabilities

The greatest opportunity for business is to combine the expertise of marketing and IT. Marketers usually view their customers through the lens of media – combining paid, owned and earned media to reach and engage them. We have shifted, however, beyond this broadcast approach – and this is increasingly being enabled by the SMAC platforms.

To more effectively bridge the marketing and IT fields, we need new ways of thinking, collaborating and conceptualising what it is that we do. We need a shared language, shared measurements and cross-line-of-business visibility into key performance indicators, pressures, deadlines and processes. And this means digital transformation.

Is it possible? It has to be. For only through this kind of alignment will we be able to deeply impact our customer’s brand experience.

I spoke in more detail on this subject recently. See my slides and the presentation here.


DH - From Media to Experience (3)

Thinking Ahead of the Agency Curve


Many years ago I was setting up a digital team within an agency and a great brief came across my desk. It was a make or break opportunity. It came from our largest client and it took quite a deal of negotiation to even be included – and all eyes turned towards what was then, a fledgling capability.

The brief asked clearly and simply – “should we build our own site or should we just advertise on other sites?”

My response at the time continues to be my mantra for digital (or even business) strategy:

Share the message, own the destination

What I was arguing for was the creation of a platform where the brand and its customers could co-create value. It did take some time to flesh this out in practice, but it proved to be a winning strategy for that client – and for many which followed.

These days, as technology not only invades – but becomes an essential part of our business and brand strategy – this guiding principle “share the message, own the destination” resonates even more strongly. And it does so, because our work as marketers and as business leaders, happens well beyond the bounds of our enterprises. We are always on. Always connected. And always running.



Running towards brand infrastructure

Because we are always running – always seeking new value (or should be) – we also need to be thinking ahead for our own businesses and clients. We need to not only out-run competitors but to out-think them. And to do so, we need to look for accelerators. Which is why I am excited about this presentation from Zeus Jones’ Adrian Ho. They have been consistently ahead of the agency curve for many years – taking an innovative approach to solving clients problems with new approaches to strategy AND execution.

Pay particular attention to slides 19-28 where Adrian explains the three different kinds of platforms that connect brand infrastructure:

  • Growth platforms – operations as marketing and marketing as operations
  • Loyalty platforms – for managing relationships with current users
  • Mass platforms – earned media at scale

Now, platforms are challenging – but they can deliver massive upside. They also provide a way to truly differentiate from your competitors while also creating new market (and marketing) opportunities.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is – “how am I out-thinking and out-executing” my competitors, my industry, my disruptors?

How to Get Your Board Onboard with Digital


When the eConsultancy/Marketo State of Digital Marketing report for Australia and New Zealand was released recently, it revealed a number of worrying trends. Not only was knowledge of digital ranked as “very poor” in 10% of organisations – up from 4% in 2014 – but a massive 63% rated this knowledge at “Okay” or less. Only 7% rated their digital knowledge as “excellent”. All of these leading indicators of digital skill and organisational capacity are trending down. But more worrying is the dearth of digital leadership at the Board and Senior Executive levels. Only 9% of eConsultancy respondents indicated that senior execs and directors have an “excellent” understanding of digital.


While I am not proposing that Boards need a deep understanding of digital, there does need to be a rebalancing. In an era when the world’s most valuable and profitable companies are “digital first”, Australia cannot compete while 91% of our Board directors languish in a 20th Century mindset. IBM’s Global Managing Partner for Social Consulting, Andrew Grill explains this as lacking “digital literacy”. In a recent BlueNotes article he suggested:

… the issue of digital literacy remains, in my opinion, a much more important issue than it was back in 2001.

In 2015 it has the ability to affect the stock prices of publicly listed companies in the short to medium term if left unchecked …

I see firsthand how companies are struggling to ensure the C-Suite can quickly grasp the impact of digital disruption being felt across all industries. Digital disruption is not just around the corner, in many industries it is already here.

Australia has a history of downplaying the importance of digital transformation and innovation. But the clock is ticking and the threat of digital disruption is real.

At a recent MIT symposium, it was estimated that 32% of revenue is at risk over the next five years due to digital disruption. Furthermore:

One panelist went so far as to suggest that companies won’t exist in 10 years if they focus only on “traditional products.” The way forward, he suggested, is to offer products and related services enabled by digital technologies.

Digital Natives, Reverse Mentoring and Digital NEDs

Having been Chair of youth not-for-profit organisation, Vibewire, for about seven years, I have seen first-hand, the massive changes in the way that young people, think, act and work – especially in relation to digital and social media. Close collaboration with digital natives – those who were born after 1980 and have always had access to the internet – can be eye opening. But also informing and enriching. It can transform the way that you work – if you are open to it.

This is where “reverse mentoring” comes in. More senior executives and Board members can be paired up with younger employees where cross-skilling and mentoring can take place. This can be a two-way experience – where each person’s experience and skill is honoured – and new experiences and skills developed.

But how do these skills reach the Board? Andrew Grill suggests engaging digitally savvy non-executive directors. Qantas has adopted this approach, appointing ad agency boss, Todd Sampson to their Board earlier in 2015. The question, of course is, how do you spot a digital NED? Here are some pointers (hat tip to Andrew):

  • Identify someone who understands the urgency and speed of change that is taking place
  • Look for those who understand the complex workings of the enterprise and can translate this to digital
  • Seek experimenters and those with a degree of hands-on experience.

The State of Social Media in 2015 – A Future Business Roadmap


I do love a review of social media. It reminds me of how far we’ve come and maybe gives an inkling of where we might go. It can also provide a guide by which you can assess, review and benchmark your clients and their activities. BUT. And with social media there is always a BUT.

For the vast majority of those who work in social media roles, or who work in social media with their clients, reports such as the Percolate State of Social Media 2015 are more practical than you might expect. For they provide a roadmap to future business capability.

That’s not a benchmark, it’s a roadmap

Every second on the internet, masses of content is being produced. Around 2500 Instagram photos are uploaded, almost 10,000 tweets are sent, 2000 Tumblr posts are published, 1800 Skype calls are made and 50,000 Google searches are conducted. It’s mind blowing. But it’s not useful.

What IS useful is thinking through the implications of this:

  • Media is being produced by individuals not just by media companies
  • Content is curated, shared and distributed entirely through digital channels
  • “Phone” calls are making the phone obsolete
  • Knowledge is sought on demand.

Looking deeper, we see not the symptoms of these technologies but the behaviours which underlie them.

  • We prize creation over consumption
  • We value networks over channels
  • We crave connection over function
  • We seek satisfaction over perfection

If we take a similar approach to the headlines from the Percolate report, interesting opportunities appear:

  • Social media moves beyond social – we need to build “social media” capacity within our organisations in preparation
  • Customer service shifts to experience – customer service is no longer back office, but front of house. Time to prepare our teams as ambassadors rather than problem solvers
  • Crisis management hits the risk radar – have you developed a crisis plan? Now is the time
  • Social business is everyone’s business – similar to the first point above. But think about social media not as a marketing function but as a core business capability. This is where the digital rubber meets the transformation road.

Social becomes business

The fundamental shift that is recognised in the report is not the NEED for social media, but the need for SOCIAL BUSINESS. As social impacts all aspects of your business from the boardroom to the reception desk, the need for an organisational wide strategy and enablement program becomes paramount.

How can this be done programmatically – and (despite the name of this blog) without chaos?

The answer lies in becoming a responsive organisation. Using agile methodologies applied to business functions and outcomes. It means disrupting yourself before you are disrupted. Now is the time when social becomes business.

Google Goes Back to the Garage with Alphabet


When a company the size of Google makes a massive change in their structure and the way that they do business, it’s big news. Today, Google announced the formation of Alphabet, a holding company that will stable the portfolio of companies formerly known as “Google” – giving the organisation potentially a new lease on life and a new direction – or series of directions.

Constellation Research’s R ‘Ray’ Wang provides a laser sharp analysis of what the announcement means in the following video.

Given that so many organisations grow to a size which prohibits innovation, this restructuring offers an amazing live case study of an attempt to avoid the “Kodak moment”. The new, low carb version of Google – which generates the vast majority of revenues – will look vastly different and more tightly focused on digital and internet properties:

  • Search
  • Advertising
  • Maps
  • Apps
  • YouTube
  • Android

This structure effectively hives off the “business as usual”, high velocity, transactional revenue streams into a separate unit which will continue to be called “Google”. The new CEO, Sundar Pichai will be able to keep that digital focus while continuing the optimisation and incremental improvements that keep Google at the centre of our online lives.

The high potential, future-oriented remaining businesses will become separate businesses under Alphabet. Taking a portfolio investment approach to innovation, Alphabet’s stable features near and far term innovation ventures that are:

  • Inside us: Life sciences – biotech research through new company, Calico
  • Around us: Consumer home technology – internet of things hardware for the smart home through Nest
  • Connecting us: High speed internet service through Fiber
  • Moving us: X-lab – the incubator charged with developing self-driving cars and drone technology

And Google Ventures will continue its investments in early and growth stage ventures.

While the business implications for this restructure are significant – the most interesting impact is likely to be felt at the level of culture. Creating a culture of innovation – and maintaining it over the long term is extremely difficult. This is a bold move that brings Google back into the garage from where it came from. It sets a new model for tech sector innovation and has the potential to re-invigorate Google’s innovation agenda.

Who will be the fast follower – or copycat – to Google’s lead? Time will tell.

The secret lesson for corporates from the world of startups


When ANZ chief economist, Warren Hogan recently explained Australian business’ aversion to risk, it made a lot of sense. Not only are corporates concerned about project success, they are also geared and structured towards large projects which makes it more difficult to innovate in a more “agile” manner. This gives rise to several other challenges. Without flexibility, Australian corporations are subject to:

  • Unnecessary competitive disruption – smaller businesses can easily capture mindshare, momentum and a raft of unhappy customers simply because companies don’t have the agility to address emergent threats.
  • Higher levels of customer dissatisfaction – if customer experience projects are subject to this same lack of responsiveness, then customer satisfaction is more likely to quickly result in customer churn and lower NPS.
  • Market irrelevance – today’s customer is hungry for differentiated experience. Slow response to market challenges simply means that your market moves elsewhere. And they do so “at the speed of digital”.

But all is not lost. There are four key lessons that corporates can learn from the world of startups. And they can all be easily implemented, trialled and scaled with a minimal investment. I explain more here.

Fulfilling the Promise of Digital Marketing


From my first line of HTML I fell in love. Like almost everybody, I started with two simple words loaded into a browser. “hello world”. And with that I was hooked. I could sense, right here beneath my fingertips, that the world was shifting.

And again, years later, working with “Koz Community” at IBM – a system that was way ahead of its time – I could tell that those amorphous “audiences” out there were coming together. Connecting with each other and with me. Us. There was a fusing around passions and interests that was closer to performance art than marketing.

Social media turned the screw yet again. Turning the commonplace into uniqueness, transforming text into experience, image into storytelling. It put the levers of the imagination into the hands of everyday people – you and I. And we loved it. We loved the freedom of expression. The connection. The gritty humanity of it all shone through with every update.

But digital marketing – for the most part – has remained lacklustre. But it’s not for want of trying. Having been on judging panels for various awards, I can see that great work is being done. Interesting, challenging, pushing-the-envelope-type work. But the work that is possible and the expectations of clients are out of sync:

  • Client led: Where the client is leading the innovation – looking for ever-newer approaches
  • Agency led: Where the agency works to educate, engage, sell-in and deliver the “new”.

The problem is that we continue to look towards “one-offs”. We think that “strategy” is to do with plans on paper. Or Powerpoint. Or Keynote. We don’t think of it as “getting closer to our customers”. We don’t envision strategy as a process of solving problems. And we don’t see “digital marketing” as a fundamental way to transform the customer relationship.

DH - From Media to Experience (3)

Take a look at the video below. Think about the way that social, mobile, cloud (and ultimately analytics) – the SMAC – are combining to create a transformative customer experience. See how paid, owned and earned media are coming together. But what is most exciting about this is the way that “art” or an artistic sensibility – creativity – is coming into the execution. It’s the “A” in my PANDA framework for visionary marketing.

I have said it before and will say it again – experience is the currency of your brand.

And until we understand this, we won’t fulfil the promise of digital marketing.

Retail Disrupted-Consumers Get Smarter says IBM Study


I have a love-hate relationship with shopping. Actually, when I think about it, I quite like shopping as an experience. What I don’t like the way retail transforms that experience. You see, retail shopping is filled with frustration:

  • There’s no or limited stock
  • Loyalty programs are more of a burden than a benefit
  • The digital experience is out-of-kilter with the in-store experience
  • Customer service is an after thought.

And it seems I am not alone. The 2015 IBM Smarter Consumer Study: Shoppers Disrupted gauged global sentiment about consumers’ shopping behaviour. The extensive survey of 28,500 online respondents across 15 countries saw more than 1,800 Australians respond to the survey.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Australian shoppers are less loyal than ever – 10% act as advocates while 37% act as antagonists
  • 38% of 20-39 year olds prefer to shop online
  • Online shopping is up across all categories (esp consumer electronics)
  • Shoppers prefer to be in control – and that means a mobile experience.

You can register and download the full report here.

Now, much of this is not new. I have been analysing the structural, technological and strategic problems with retail for years. But Australian retail, in particular, has been slow to respond to the challenges (and opportunities) of digital disruption. And when they do respond, they often do so with the blinkered vision of incumbency. Does this leave the door open for nimble competition or does is just breed consumer mistrust and apathy? I’d love your thoughts.

The big question, of course, is when will retailers fix these problems? Those that do will reap the reward of an increasingly digitally-savvy customer base. Those that twiddle their thumbs will see their customers switch allegiances – or worse – become antagonists.