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Scott McKain

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It’s time to disrupt “disruption”…

Friends tell friends...If there is a word in today’s vernacular that is speeding toward the boundary at the junction between trite and meaningless…it’s that flavor-of-the-times business term, “disruption.”

It’s the latest in the “excellence,” “good to great,” “management by walking around,” “one minute manager,” “think outside the box” pantheon of business guru greatest hits.  Some of those touting “disruption” now are probably the same ones who were giving “Y2K” speeches fifteen years ago.

Believe it or not, it has been suggested to me by a couple of speakers bureaus that I need a “disruption keynote,” because it’s such a hot topic it could get me more bookings.

I decline, respectfully, for three critical reasons:

  1. Disruption is typically not created by the desire to disrupt. Its genesis is found in the desire to create distinction.
  2. Disruption attempted simply for the sake of blowing things up doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes in the long run.
  3. Only from creating distinction – particularly in areas of intense customer dissatisfaction – does anything truly rise to the level of legitimate disruption.

When you examine the success of true disruptors – let’s use Apple’s iPhone and Uber as a couple of examples – you find their foundation is based in the aspects outlined earlier. They intensely focused upon areas of significant customer dissatisfaction.

  • As Steve Jobs frequently said, “The reason we had to do the iPhone is that we all hated our mobile devices.”
  • How many customers are in love with either a private car service or taxicab provider (“Taxi Terry” not withstanding) that they may use? Few, I’d wager.

Which means that most of us need to be focusing upon the areas within our organization where customers aren’t thrilled with the experience of doing business with us.  It’s the single best vaccine against disruption.

Our vulnerability to disruption springs from our inability to create distinction in the customer experience.

  • My guess is that Uber isn’t going disrupt Taxi Terry. It will, however, decimate the non-distinctive, commodity taxi service.
  • Nordstrom doesn’t need to disrupt shopping. Instead, it needs to redouble its amazing efforts in the customer experience.
  • Motel 6 disrupted the seedy, locally owned motel by providing a better experience for budget travelers – not by blowing up the motel model.

What about Airbnb, you say?

Obviously, the hotel industry failed to perceive that there was a large marketplace out there that would prefer an alternative experience to what Marriott and Hilton were providing. If the majors had their ears to the ground for what was really happening in the marketplace – rather than working harder on the old plan – there would have been no need for Airbnb in the industry.

  • Isn’t it amazing that Folgers or Chase & Sanborn didn’t come up with the Starbucks concept?
  • Why couldn’t Nokia or Motorola develop the iPhone instead of Apple when they were working in mobile devices 24/7?

There are many answers…the “echo chamber” of business, that “working harder on the old plan” approach, and more…but here’s the primary one, it seems to me:

  • Just as “good is the enemy of great” – “great is the enemy of distinctive.”

You can make great coffee, hotels, and more – and still get blown away by a distinctive alternative.

We’ll examine this more in future blogs – but, consider this:

  • Is your goal to work harder on the old plan until your execution is great?
  • Or, is it to come up with an innovative approach to your plan that will create distinction for you in the marketplace?

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Scott McKain is a business leader, bestselling author, and Hall of Fame professional speaker.
Scott's latest book, "The Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails" reached the #1 spot on Amazon.com list of Customer Service Bestsellers! He is the author of two #1 additional business bestsellers (Amazon.com & 800-CEO-READ): "What Customers REALLY Want" (currently available in trade paperback) and "ALL Business is Show Business."
He is the Co-founder and Principal of The Value Added Institute, a think-tank that examines the role of the customer experience in creating significant advances in the level of client loyalty, and has appeared on multiple occasions as a commentator and analyst on FOX News Channel. His platform presentations have run the gamut from the White House lawn with the President in the audience carried live on CNN and NBC's "Today" show...to a remote outpost near the Amazon...all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces...and from Singapore to Sweden...Mexico to Morocco.
An inductee into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, he is also a member of "Speakers Roundtable" -- an elite, invitation-only group of twenty of the world's top business speakers.