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Ryan E. Day


Reinvention in the Age of Disruption

Welcome to the 21st century

Published: Thursday, July 13, 2017 - 12:03

If necessity is the mother of invention, disruption is the mother of re-invention. But what do the terms “disruption” and “reinvention” really mean? Shane Cragun and Kate Sweetman tackle both questions in their book, Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2016).

As co-founders of SweetmanCragun, a global management consulting, training, and coaching firm, authors Sweetman and Cragun are thought leaders and change agents with firsthand experience working with Fortune 500 companies, world leaders, and multinational corporations.

Age of disruption

Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption

Making fire and inventing the wheel were pretty big disruptions, so what does the term “disruption” mean? Is it just a catchphrase, or does it have unique implications for the 21st century?

“Let’s put it this way,” explains Cragun. “The printing press was a disruptive event. The wheel was unquestionably disruptive. In the 1860s when the railroad and Trans-Atlantic came, it also was disruptive, but these things took time to unfold. The difference between then and now is the pace and scope of change. Look how fast the internet changed things. When stuff happens now, people and businesses are still adjusting when the next change-wave comes. And it’s accelerating. What I’m saying is that the age of disruption is an age of gigantic, sweeping, tumultuous waves that go across countries and continents, and just completely change the way we do business.”

Indeed, even the unforeseen consequences of the internet seem quaint and dawdling compared to the accelerating pace of change in today’s world.

Another distinguishing characteristic of this age of disruption is that change comes from some of the most unlikely sources.

“Wherever we go, one of the things that my partner Kate and I do is ask people, ‘How many of you feel like the Earth is just starting to spin faster and faster and faster?’ Every hand shoots up like a lightning bolt no matter where we are,” says Cragun. “Then we ask, ‘How many of you feel like the pace of change is only increasing?’ Again, all their hands go up. ‘How many of you feel like this is just a blip right now, and it’s going to slow back down?’ And there’s just laughter. No matter where we do this in the world, there’s just a feeling that, ‘Man, I could wake up tomorrow and read the news that my industry has just been turned upside down.’ There was a Fortune 500 company CEO who told me, ‘When I talk to my fellow CEOs, we no longer discuss that much about what’s being done by traditional competitors within our own industry. No, we want to know what industry Elon Musk has set his sights on.’ When we do workshops, we often ask, ‘Why do you think the environment has changed?’ One of the reoccurring answers is, ‘Nontraditional competitors.’ And that is different from 20 years ago.

“I read that the 100,000 taxi drivers in New York didn’t even know about Uber until people riding in their own back seats started asking, ‘Hey, what do you think about Uber?’ and just like that, in five years you won’t see one Yellow Taxi cab, guaranteed. Twenty years ago, the new challenge was global competition. Now it’s some startup deciding to disrupt your hamburger chain, and doing it better, faster, and cheaper. I’ll tell you, even street vendors in New York are scared about losing their livelihood.”

With Amazon acquiring Whole Foods, and cloned meat a reality, even the specter of 3D-printed Happy Meals doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Reinvention—how and why

Recent PR events are forcing companies like United and Uber to reinvent—reinvent their leadership, reinvent the way they communicate to customers and the public, reinvent their crisis management, and more. Beyond the PR crises, however, every company needs to focus on the value of preemptive change in the face of unceasing disruption.

“Based upon years of study and experience, we predict that the ability to reinvent yourself and reinvent your organization will be one of the most important competencies to have in the 21st century,” says Cragun. “In fact, having this ability may be simply the price of admission to play in today’s global chess game.”

The need for better leadership is evident everywhere one turns, from Exxon to Wells Fargo to Volkswagen. These corporate fiascos and crises are symptoms of cultures created from the top down. It is leadership that sets the tone and creates the ecosystem for the organization at large. Simply put, how are leaders who are responsible for deplorable cultures going to bring about positive change? If CEOs want to change their organizations, do they have to reinvent themselves first?

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
—Albert Einstein

“We start out by saying that if you’re going to reinvent, the number-one thing that has to be in place is what we call a ‘D’—which is a strong dissatisfaction for the current state,” says Cragun. “It’s like they say at AA, there’s not even a small chance for true change until a person has a strong internal self-need for change. So, can bad leaders reinvent an organization? Not if they don’t have a self-need, but if they are finally to the point where they’re saying, ‘We’re going to go down, we need help, teach us!’ then yes, if they get external help it’s possible. Can a leadership team that designed themselves into a quagmire in the first place get out of the box by themselves, without help? Absolutely not! No way. They have to have two things present: an outside force that can call them on it, and a real humility that they have to do things differently.

“We offer a reinvention formula, and it’s the first change formula that we have found that works for society, individuals, teams, and organizations. This is based on pure change principles. What we say is that what applies to one area of change, applies to all of them. And it begins with personal reinvention within the leaders.”

“We decided that in order to reinvent GM, each of us top leaders have to first get humble and reinvent ourselves. How can we expect to disrupt the auto industry until we disrupt our own leadership first?”
—Mary Bara, CEO GM

Force multipliers—why reinvention matters

“We believe that the most important variable in corporate performance is leadership,” says Cragun. “We can see that right now. The impact of a good or bad leader is significant and, leadership is the only real force multiplier behind corporate performance. Yes, you can improve processes, no question, but if you truly want a huge one-to-many multiplier effect, it’s leadership.”

Force multiplication refers to an attribute or a combination of attributes that dramatically increase the effectiveness of an item or group, giving them the ability to accomplish greater things than without it.

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
—Colin Powell, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

The message of Mavericks

“Mavericks in Northern California is one of the most dangerous places in the world to surf,” says Cragun. “In the winter, waves can reach up to 60 ft high—people get killed surfing there. There’s only a handful of guys in the world who will surf it, but they can make a ton of money for doing it at the invitation-only contest, also called Mavericks, so they do it.

“The really big waves only break for a few weeks each year, but the big-wave riders are scattered all over the globe. So, how do they know when the waves are going to break, since it can be any time from October and April? They have special communication devices that give them ‘Maverick’ alerts. There are buoys 100 miles northwest of San Francisco, and meteorologists can predict wave heights. They won’t send an alert unless the swells are 35 ft. The article I read said that within 48 hours of getting the alert, these guys are zipping into their wetsuits and paddling out to Mavericks, helicopters are swooping in for video coverage, and that’s the big event. These guys can make their whole career on one event.

“One of the Mavericks surfers said they have a thing they call ‘charging the wave.’ He said, ‘The difference between us and other surfers is that when they see a 30- to 40-foot wave, they paddle in to shore; we charge that wave with excitement.’ That’s a great metaphor for our book, The Fearless Leader, coming out in 2018. Chapter one speaks of the “message of Mavericks,” which is that you have two choices as a leader in this age of disruption:
“1. To buoy or not buoy. Meaning, are you going to have buoys out in your competitive ocean? Cab companies should have known about Uber two years beforehand, but they didn’t have buoys out, and they got overwhelmed. OEMs should have known about Tesla before it even launched.
“2. To either disrupt or be disrupted. Like the surfers, to charge the wave or paddle in, you have a choice.

“The waves are definitely coming, so are you going to disrupt or be disrupted? One of the skills we’re going to propose in our upcoming book is the ability of great leaders to disrupt and not be disrupted, never play the victim.”

Mavericks Waves


About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20 lb tabby cat at his side.