Designing for Tech Disruption: An Incumbent's Guide to Surviving Change

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There’s nothing worse than finding yourself on the wrong side of a tech trend. The commercial real estate industry has seen itself in that position more than a time or two, but I believe we’ve finally turned a corner where we’re actively focusing on new and emerging tech trends to keep the industry moving forward.

Along these lines … one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time is An Incumbent’s Guide to Digital Disruption by McKinsey. It looks at the four stages of disruption from an incumbent’s perspective, the barriers to overcome, and the choices and responses needed at each stage.

It claims that at first, young companies struggle with uncertainty but are agile and willing to experiment with technology or new processes. “At this time, companies prize learning and optionality and work toward creating value based on the expectation of future earnings,” says the article. The new technology, process or model then needs to reach some type of critical mass to become a going concern.

As the company matures—that is, become incumbents—mind-sets and realities change. “The established companies lock in routines and processes. They iron out and standardize variability amid growing organizational complexity. In the quest for efficiency, they weed out strategic options and reward executives for steady results,” it says. The measure of success here is now delivery of consistent, growing cash flows. “The option-rich expectancy of future gain is replaced by the treadmill of continually escalating performance expectations.” (I love this)

The first step to any change is recognizing there’s a problem. If we can know and understand the process that incumbents face when tackling a new project, technology, process or model … then why can’t we design for this so-called disruption? How can we apply this to our businesses?

I would argue there are a few ways we can survive —or design for— tech disruption:

  1. Communicate. We should recognize that tackling anything new can seem overwhelming if not properly and adequately communicated to the entire team. This means getting all team members involved from the beginning. Integrating their ideas into the change process —they are, after all, the front line workers who (in most cases) will be implementing/using these new technologies, etc.

  2. Gamify. I’ve written before about gamification and I believe it’s a powerful business tool for getting team members excited and energized about new processes —making change fun.

  3. Review. Throughout the implementation, constant review should happen. How is the changing going? Where can we make it easier, quicker, better? What’s the overall feeling or consensus? Taking the pulse of the company throughout the change can help spot potential problem areas.

  4. Reward. It’s working. You’ve achieved success. It’s time to celebrate and “reward” your team members for a job well done. It takes everyone’s buy-in to implement successful change, so make sure your team knows how pleased you are.

  5. Review again. Now that things are flowing and the change has become part of the everyday norm, don’t stop there. Review and review again. This is how you’ll stay abreast of new ways to keep current and to progressively move forward —don’t get caught on the wrong side.

I’d love to hear about a recent change or technology you’ve implemented at your business and how you tackled the process. Let’s fill the comments with some great conversation!