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Are best practices just business clichés?

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Why did Kodak fail? Because it couldn’t keep up with the changing business environment. One that was advancing to digital far quicker than Kodak could keep pace with. And by the time they caught up, Kodak’s competition had stolen its customers.

Kodak’s CEO has even been quoted as saying, “You don’t want to stick your hand into an engine that’s running to change a fan belt.”

But sometimes, you have to.

And according to Luke Williams, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, every company is a Kodak. At the peak of success, Williams says, is when every company is most vulnerable to disruption. It’s what you do with that disruption that makes the difference.

Disrupt: Sparking Business Transformation with Innovation” was the topic of this morning’s general session at the 2014 LIMRA Life Insurance Conference. And who knows more about the topic than the author of a book on disruption and how it helps business transformation.

As Williams told those in attendance: If you’re interested in growth, you have to know that innovation is a part of that growth. Creativity is also a part of growth.

But how do companies increase the pace of innovation? Increase the exchange of ideas between people.

“Ideas are the recipes you use to rearrange things to create value and wealth,” said Williams.”

He then asked the crowd how many bold new recipes they had come up with to promote life insurance. With the current state of the insurance industry as it is, it was no surprise that there were more than a few blank stares in response.

But in Williams’ mind, it’s not enough to just have ideas. “These ideas have to mix, mate and mutate,” he said. “Your ideas have to have sex. This was one of the reasons I was so excited about coming to a LIMRA conference. Theres a whole lot of sex going on here.”

Idea sex, that is. 

As an example of how quickly things are changing in different industries, Williams used the smartphone market. How much change have we seen in that market? It was only five short years ago that we saw the entire market dominated by three players.

“We’re starting to see businesses rise and fall faster than ever before,” Williams said.

Williams urged the crowd to to be the disruptive change within their companies, asking them to let go of the notion that it’s going to be a comfortable process. He admits it may be terrifying since, by definition, you don’t know what the answers are going to be.

Even so, Williams is certain that disruptive thinking is the key business leadership skill of the 21st century. Here’s how to disrupt change, for the better:

  1. Craft a disruptive hypothesis (disruptive questions);
  2. Define a disruptive market opportunity;
  3. Generate several disruptive ideas;
  4. Shape a disruptive solution; and
  5. Make a disruptive pitch.

“You have to free yourself of seeing things as they are right now if you want to see things for how they may become,” he said, as he mentioned the many ”business clichés” that are in use today (which he says the industry calls “best practices”).

Williams also reminded the crowd that nothing kills a good idea faster than common sense

“This is about going back to your organizations and instituting an instinct for change,” he said. “There has never been a more exciting time for you to think about how to to restructure things to create value.”

Potential is all around you. Enjoy the possiblilities.


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