The importance of challenge in an era of disruption
“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” – Warren Bennis
At a time when the word ‘disruptive’ is thrown around more liberally than it should be, these words ring particularly true. In recent times, ‘disruptors’ have been put on pedestals of ever-increasing size, with investors lining up to snatch the next success story.
Looking at the market we see 3 notable examples:
- Darktrace is carving a provocative position as a cyber-security world-leader;
- Atom Bank has shattered the skepticism & perceptions of mobile-first banking;
- Quantopian aims to level the Wall Street playing field through community-based algorithm writing.
Leaders of this calibre bring fresh ideas into play, yet how often do they challenge themselves?
If the manager accepts the status quo & the leader challenges it, then what is to be said for the person that steps back & challenges their own thinking?
Too often, the word ‘disruptor’ is used externally with regard to disrupting the market. Sometimes, the greatest disruptors are not those who wish to up-end any particular system, but rather those who step back to assess their own direction & strategy.
This notion of internal challenge often hollows over time as a business matures. There is an acceptance that past a certain point in a company’s success, it can do no wrong. Yet this challenge deficit can result in a crushing fall from grace.
For instance, Karhoo promised the market the first price comparison platform for taxis but failed to instil company-wide leadership that would challenge their own thinking. This lack of focus resulted in a scattergun property leasing spree & 6 months after launching, Karhoo fell into administration.
With this in mind, even the most cautious start-up CEOs can forget to self-challenge in the hunt for new leads or the next round of investment. Similarly, larger companies tend to lapse into a plateau of self-congratulation, in which any desire for challenge is channelled externally onto competitors. You end up where you focus & often by becoming obsessed by the competition, a firm loses sight of their own direction. The vision & energy that pulls them becomes negative.
So how does a successful market challenger avoid this path to blindness?
If you seek to constantly better yourself & ask the difficult questions, this will seep into the way your customers see you.
- What relevant importance does the market attach to the problem that you claim to solve?
- If you had to choose just one branch of the business to save, which would it be?
- How is your internal culture (or lack thereof) impacting on your P&L?
Change is a natural consequence of challenge.
Through working with inspirational leaders & experts in their field, we have distilled certain trends that exist among ambitious CEOs. Often, their business is fuelled by a passion so deeply rooted that it must be tamed to truly focus the proposition.
- Darwinex has risen to the challenge of shifting how investors back the best traders;
- Virtual Clarity has seen a pivotal change in internal culture to drive strategic growth;
- Exonar has been able to pinpoint strategic areas to focus on, as part of their data insights expansion.
What all of these firms have in common is an appetite for change. We believe that this enables the business proposition to be sharpened to the point that its target audience has no choice but to buy into the business as a whole. The only way to achieve this in the era of disruption is through focus & self reflection.
In the words of Thomas Watson:
“The ability to ask the right question, is more than half the battle of finding the answer.”