A Front Row Seat to Disruption

A Front Row Seat to Disruption

It seems there are a thousand companies or products launched everyday setting out to get noticed and change the world. Apple is one of those companies that has directly or indirectly affected almost everyone. I won’t get all into the history of the company since that has been done enough, and because this rant has nothing to do with how great Apple is.

One of Apple’s founders, Steve Jobs, is one of those few iconic CEOs who is revered in business history (or pop culture) for generations.  It doesn’t happen very often because, after all, what happens at the tippy-top of most corporations is sort of…well…boring. But Jobs wasn’t boring and he led Apple to success from near-death. Because he did, Jobs and Apple became a subject of study for people and companies trying to replicate the success.  Do what they did and greatness will be achieved. (We all know it’s not that way, don’t we? Or am I assuming too much?)

Jobs was a unique individual who was right about the right things when he needed to be and we watched him because whatever it was he was working on was going to affect us, now or later.

If in your activity, you start to make those transformations that change or disrupt industry or markets, then they start to include you in books about business and leadership – supposedly so that others may learn how to do the same.

But here’s the thing: Steve Jobs didn’t read a book or attend a seminar to learn how to be that way.  Real leaders don’t have to because it’s in their DNA. They know what to do, they are able to attract or find like-minded and like-missioned people to be part of what they want to do, and they go do it.

Have you ever been given an assignment to read one of these business books about leadership and then re-group afterward and compare the examples in the book to your own company? What about us is unique? What about us matters? Are we contagious? How can we be more of those things? If we went away tomorrow, what would our customers miss? What is our next big idea?

I’m going to give you the answer to all those questions in just a bit.

First, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with reading these kinds of books.  The problem with these books is that we use them the wrong way. They’re full of great stories and I learn something or I’m reminded of something every time pick one up and I usually end up with some kind of anecdote that I can inject into conversation at some point in the future. These books are great for historical reference too as they often contain information that is a bit “inside baseball” and when scribed by a talented writer, you can even feel like you were there when it all happened.

Second, the idea of disruption is not limited to technologically focused companies – it applies to all companies in all industries.  But, disruption is not for everyone. You have to be wired for it. Disruptors stir things up, make things better for the their customers and very bad for their competitors. Disruptors change the way things are done.

What you should realize (if you haven’t already) is that these books highlight the road that the featured company took for THEIR success, isn’t not a plan for YOUR success. The difference is that you and your team are different people than those in the book and they were willing to do what it takes to disrupt. Are you? Most companies are only willing to say they’ll do what it takes. Often, you’ll find a team with disruptors on it, but leadership is not willing to turn them loose, or leadership isn’t really sure about what to do. You are not Steve Jobs.T-Mobile Press Event - Un-carrier 4.0

You are also not John Legere. You may not know his name, but you might want to keep an eye him because what he is doing will affect you. And it will be good. Legere is the CEO of T-Mobile – considered the #4 wireless carrier in the U.S.  For the first time in a while we have an interesting business leader to watch as he transforms the company and through forcing his competitors to change, he’s changing the industry. Since he announced T Mobile would be the “Uncarrier”, T Mobile has been successfully setting itself apart from other service providers and make wireless mobile services better for their existing customers – essentially, giving them what they want.  It sounds simple but, until now, it doesn’t seem that wireless companies serve the customer. It seems they work harder to see how little service they can provide for the greatest monthly fee. Under Legere’s leadership, T Mobile is not just out to win, but to “hurt the other guy.”  His words.T-Mobile Press Event - Un-carrier 4.0

How many people could this affect? It’s already affected millions of TMO subscribers but even if you are not a TMO customer, what Legere is doing is causing the other wireless companies to change. AT&T responded to TMO’s latest move based on a rumor even before the news was official. This is disruption. TMO will win or change everything trying.

Watch John Legere at CES 2014

John Legere will be studied and compared to other high-profile CEO’s and there will be books using examples of his work to show you how to lead your company to success as he did.

Here what you need to know even before a book about Legere is published: If you’re reading a book to learn how to be innovative, then you and your team are not innovative.  Your product design or service is not revolutionary. If your company or product went away tomorrow, no one would notice. And stop thinking up your next big idea until you have had your first big idea.

If the result of the book-reading exercise was that you needed to blow up everything about the way you do business, then have the balls to blow it up or stop wasting the time of everyone on your team only to do the same shit next year when it’s the wrong shit! Find what is right and good. Do that.

Revolutionary doesn’t necessarily mean a moonshot – it can be simply doing the obvious. Just consider one facet the Uncarrier movement. TMO knew because their customers told them that they hated being locked into a contract. So, TMO got rid of contracts.

How hard is that?

Then they announced faster phone upgrades, unlimited data, then free data in over 100 countries, and now they’re paying your ETFs so it’s easier to switch to TMO. Isn’t that obvious stuff?  Aren’t those “pain points” in your wireless plan? TMO just handed everyone a big-ass Tylenol!

Take a look at what you or your industry does that causes pain, stop doing that. You might only be changing your company – maybe just your department. Maybe the world. (If you’re in the radio industry, it’s probably too late.)

There are disruptors we know, and those we don’t yet know. But if you need a book to show you how to be one, then you are not one.

Stop trying and be something else.