Falsely Prepared for Disruption

I have written previously about the downside of companies panicking due to fear of disruption. And, most people are well aware of the terrible fate that can happen, as it did at Kodak, when disruptive threats are essentially ignored.  However, besides panic and being Kodak-like, there is yet another scenario that companies dealing with disruption can face. Companies actively working to prevent disruption can falsely believe they are prepared to deal with disruptive threats when, in fact, they may not be.

Like panic, false preparedness entails taking ineffective steps in an effort to stop disruption. With false preparedness, however, companies may be monitoring the marketplace and may buy out or otherwise take action to deflect start-up disruptive threats. Since their efforts occur on an ongoing basis, these falsely prepared companies are not panicking in response to a disruptive threat. Yet, like those who panic, the falsely prepared can easily go down a path that is wrong for their business and, if they do so, they can bring on disaster instead of protecting against disruption.

Furthermore, despite their active efforts to thwart disruption, the falsely prepared can end up with a sense of complacency that mirrors what occurs at the Kodak-like disruption ignorers. This happens because both the falsely prepared and the disruption ignoring Kodaks can think everything is fine until it is too late.

An important issue that I find related to false preparedness comes up in the July 13-14, 2019 Wall Street Journal article “Remember VisiCalc?” by Christopher Mims. The article tells about the first spreadsheet, which was called VisiCalc and was highly successful after its 1979 debut. The article points out that VisiCalc was disrupted by Lotus 1-2-3, which came out in 1983 to run on the newly introduced IBM PCs. After personal computers shifted to Microsoft Windows, Lotus 1-2-3 was disrupted by Microsoft Excel.

But, aside from presenting the history of disruption as it applies to spreadsheets, the article makes a point that can have some profound implications about disruption. According to the article, “Big companies getting ahead of their own disruption is now common.” The article says, “it’s hard today to imagine the handful of giants that loom so tall over the tech world allowing themselves to go the way of VisiCalc or Lotus.”

This is true. Giant companies are generally well aware of the dangers of disruption. They are likely to be making attempts to thwart disruptive threats. So, it is hard to imagine these giants allowing themselves to be disrupted. Yet, I see this as having some potentially serious implications regarding the threat of disruption. This can easily encourage companies to perceive themselves as having disruption protections in place, while simultaneously being too complacent to recognize situations where what they are doing may not always be effective. There is always the danger that their disruption prevention efforts involve strategic missteps. After all, companies today are not immune from mistakes. Thus, successful companies that pride themselves on “getting ahead of their own disruption” need to take care not to be in false preparedness that can leave them vulnerable to what they are striving to avoid.

So, yes, it is hard to imagine this happening. But, sometimes a threat that may have been hard to imagine and is, thus, unanticipated can take down a company. Of course, this doesn’t mean companies should panic about disruption. It is just a reminder not to get excessively complacent, even when well aware of disruption and working to prevent it.

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