How disruptive innovation is like Winter driving

"Your business is changing. Disruption is certain. You need to be prepared."

I lived in British Columbia for 7 years and never ceased to be amazed by the beautiful views along BC’s highways. I was also perplexed. Every summer, on virtually every road, we would pass a surprising number of “Chain Up”* signs liberally peppered along the highways.

But as incongruous as those signs seem to be in summer, when winter comes, you quickly appreciate their importance and learn to heed their warnings.

Now I know that most of you are great drivers — efficient, courteous, safe. After all, you’ve been driving for years. As the snow falls, you might even be thinking “I don’t need chains. I know this road like the back of my hand”. And mostly you’d be right. No worries. You know the way, you know snow. Who needs chains…

Besides, checking weather reports and pulling over to put on chains is a hassle. It’s weak — like asking for directions. Really, what are the chances something could happen?

And then… something does.

In our business lives, it’s easy to make the same mistake. We see the warning signs. And then ignore them. We expect to arrive at our destination, just like we have before.

And yet, at no point in our history, have we faced a more rapid evolution of science, technology or business models. Clayton Christensen has made a living flagging the threat of disruptive innovation, Singularity University is bringing the brightest minds together to explore the potential impacts and applications of exponential technologies and Innosight predicts that 75% of today’s S&P 500 will be gone by 2027 [1]. At the same time, Canadian productivity continues to decrease, relative to global players. Deloitte recently reported that our productivity is 22% [2] less than in the US. And the gap is widening.

Now if you were planning a trip and the weather report was treacherous, wouldn’t it be prudent to pack some safety equipment and perhaps a few extra rations? Wouldn’t be smart to explore different routes or actually pull over and chain up?

For many organizations, all signs indicate disruptions ahead. The road we’ve been travelling — and the way we’ve been travelling it — will not work in the future. Driving faster down the current path, ignoring the warning signs, will only mean we hit the new hazards harder.

For companies today, it has never been more important to heed those warning signs. Business is changing. Your business is changing! So it may be a good idea to ask yourself what your chances are of making it safely to your destination. Or maybe even if there’s another destination you should consider.

Today, more than ever, you need to take the time to pull over and chain up. And while you’re there, consider the following:

What might be the cost/benefit of abandoning unprofitable businesses and re-calibrating for new markets and geographies? Is it better to continue on a road that’s unprofitable, simply because you know the way? Or might it be useful to look for new routes to new destinations?

What are the new players doing? How are startwww.c2montreal.comps targeting markets that you’ve viewed as unattractive with a lower cost, and sleeker business models? Might these companies move upstream and target your market soon.

What are you doing to make sure your journey is successful? Are you looking at your asset mix? Managing your risks? Building the capacity to act in the future? This may mean replacing your rear-wheel drive business plan with a four-by-four. Or getting everyone in the company to tune in the weather warnings. Or even deciding not to go to grandma’s house this year, but to shift your corporate culture and retool your capabilities instead..

Those summer roads we have so often enjoyed are about to change. Winter conditions are setting in. So take the time to chain up. Disruption is certain. You need to be prepared.


Guest post by C2MTL Ambassador, Chris Forrest, Innovation Manager, Monitor Deloitte, Toronto, ON.

As an Innovation Manager in Deloitte’s National Innovation Program, Chris develops a foresight function, delivers disruption workshops, inspires the development of new innovative systems and services, creates thought leadership on various topics and inspires user centric innovation across the firm.

Twitter: @c4rest


[1] Creative Destruction Whips through Corporate America, Innosight Executive Briefing – December, 2012

[2] The Future of Productivity, Deloitte – August, 2013

 *For those of you in warmer climates, not covered in a deep pile of snow right now, “Chain Up” zones are areas along highways where drivers can safely pull over and apply tire chains.  Tire chains are attached to wheels to increase traction on ice or snow, and in many cases, they are mandatory for driving certain portions of highways.


Afin de respecter la vision des auteurs, les textes de ce blogue sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine. So as to remain true to the author’s intent, the articles featured on this blog are published in the language in which they were originally written.

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