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E154 | How To Be A Disruptor, Not Disrupted with Eleanor Winton

Is your organisation a disruptor? Or is it being disrupted? Don’t miss Eleanor Winton, a consultant and expert in disruption, innovation and foresight, and founder of Foresightfully, a disruption consultancy, on this week’s Mind Your F**king Business Podcast.

Eleanor has extensive experience of working with senior teams, helping stimulate creative thought and action – she was an investigator of conduct in the Scottish Government and she was part of KPMG’s financial crime forensic function. At Foresightfully, she works with organisations to understand what the future might hold for them and helps them develop strategies in response.

Because the thing about disruption is that it’s hard to spot – just look at Blockbuster, how did they not spot Netflix coming?

In today’s episode, Eleanor shares some fantastic stories about clients she’s worked with, ways to look at different challenges, what you can do to think about the future – i.e. where’s the value? How are customers thinking about value? Because that’s where companies get disrupted – the way they think about value is not always how customers see it.

At the end, as well as some cracking book recommendations, she also imparts a great tip for something to do tomorrow. We hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we did.

On today’s podcast:

  • Disruption happens to all industries
  • How to see around corners
  • There is no good or bad solution
  • Have a vision, strategy and tactics
  • Innovate to create actual value for customers


The Disruption Game Plan with Eleanor Winton

Eleanor Winton is a disruption consultant and founder of consultancy, Foresightfully.

“I help clients to imagine and often to really stretch their thinking about what the future looks like for them and for their business, which is going to be full of threats and opportunities. And then I help them to develop strategies in response to that.”

Eleanor’s also one of the authors of The Disruption Game Plan. 

Eleanor’s clients come from across all sectors and industries, because disruption happens at different rates, in different places, across different sectors and industries. 

“Sometimes you see weak signals in the market of change. Maybe there’s a new competitor, something that doesn’t make sense, but it’s interesting enough to have caught the client’s attention.”

Other times, the client is thinking about making an acquisition, or they’re about to be the subject of an acquisition, and it’s an opportunity for them to reimagine what their business is about and what they offer. 

Disruption in business

You see disruption in retail all the time, says Eleanor. Offline to online is the best example of where a new competitor just runs a completely online business model, forcing the offline business to reassess where the value sits in the equation. 

Another example is the diamond mining industry. There’s one part of the industry where they’re pulling diamonds out of the ground, then there are companies such as Diamond Foundry, who are manufacturing diamonds in labs. 

While consumers may presently still prefer diamonds out of the ground, there’s a clear signal indicating that over time, that might change. And this is when Eleanor is brought in, because the client wants to know where they need to be in the picture and how quickly the change might happen.

How to think about disruption

A useful way to think about disruption, in any industry, says Eleanor, is that when you look from left to right, at the core resource that is used to drive the industry, to the products created, to the end customer, imagine the resource is gone, or replaced, or is different. 

Doing this helps you transform the way you have to think about your industry – it’s essentially out with the old, in with the new. And this isn’t just happening in mining with manufactured diamonds, it’s happening everywhere, in every industry. 

“What we found is that actually, one of the biggest barriers to thinking about the future or reimagining the future is that we tend to just read about or hear about it, we don’t really experience it until it’s too late.”

One of the best ways to help clients imagine massive disruption to their industry is by creating an experience for them. I.e. 5-10 years ago, you’d have been laughed out of the boardroom of an alcohol brand if you’d been worried about non-alcoholic drinks brands coming on the scene. But now you can’t move for them. 

To get stakeholders at that alcohol brand to take non-alcoholic brands seriously, Eleanor would get non-alcoholic drinks in the room, have people try them and get people to experience it for themselves and then brainstorm the myriad ways it will disrupt the drinks industry. 

“The experience of doing something that’s strange and different and fun and engaging, and a bit surprising, does help you to have a conversation that’s different from that really analytical conversation that we all want to have when we get into a meeting.”

The range of solutions

It can be tempting to come up with a good scenario and a bad scenario, and work towards getting the good one, but what you need to think about, says Eleanor, is that there’s a range of possible futures, with multiple different potential paths for you to chart. Which one do you want? Which one are you best qualified to chart? 

Don’t just choose a solution for the future because you think it has the most opportunities, nor should you go after all the possible futures, because that is far more change to take on than you’ll ever be able to handle. 

“This isn’t about making a prediction about where we want to be, and then just battering ahead to that path, because we know you’re going to get knocked off course.”

What you need to do, says Eleanor, is take into account three types of information:

  1. The data today – i.e. what’s happening now or yesterday. Beneficial for fighting immediate fires, not so useful for looking longer term. 
  2. The trend gap – i.e. what’s popular now and what is likely to be popular 2 months to 5 years out. 
  3. The weak signals – i.e. the change you think might be coming, the disruption you think you can feel approaching. 

“To really be effective, you have to be able to put all three types of information together, because otherwise you are in danger of saying, I really want to believe this thing to happen. So we’ll just go hell for leather at that thing, when, of course, change is constant.”

You need a vision for the future, and a strategy that sits behind it, and a set of tactics that sit behind that. 

“So many of the businesses that we work with forget about the vision part. And then when the strategy doesn’t work, they have to start again. Vision has to be bigger and broader and more inclusive than the strategy.”

Leaders need IQ, EQ and CQ

Change can happen so quickly. To be able to understand how fast it can happen to you, you need to use your imagination. But most leaders didn’t get to the top of their organisation by being imaginative, they got there by being decisive. 

In the 90s, all it took was a high IQ to be a leader – you just needed to be smart. But then people started to realise that it’s nice when leaders are nice, when they have some emotional intelligence. And now it’s desirable to have curiosity quotient i.e. CQ. 

CQ is the ability to be constantly learning, even though you’ve peaked in your career, you are still looking for new ways to deliver value in your role, to your business, to your stakeholders and to the world at large.

One thing about disruption isn’t that it’s always a signal you need to innovate, sometimes it’s just a risk you need to manage. Many of the things we’re facing right now, we don’t yet know which way they are going to go. We need to take some thinking time, to explore options, and to think about things in the context of value, before making a decision. 

Shifting your mindset from disrupted to disruptor

“The typical response is acquisition. But actually, we might start to think, well, where could we potentially collaborate and create shared value? And those are much more difficult questions, but not impossible.”

Too many businesses see themselves automatically as disrupted. And this type of thinking stops you from imagining yourself as a disrupter, says Eleanor, as someone who’s able to seek and find and grow new value. 

“That mindset shift is really important, because we’re all facing a future of accelerating constant change. We need to be able to think of ourselves as the people who might define that new value, not the ones who are happy to cling onto the value that we’ve created already.”

The disruptive exercise

Eleanor advises her clients to routinely do a disruptive exercise: 

Take yourself into a different environment, because we know that that triggers curiosity, whether that’s the park or a coffee shop, or even your car.

Think about how you would design your business if you were starting it now. Think about what it would look like, what would you be doing? Who would your customers be? Who would the other stakeholders be? You’re not going to get to a perfect answer, but just that process of starting afresh might trigger some really different connections, and it’s just a great intellectual exercise to do periodically.

Book recommendations

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