Sitting on the bleeding edge of disruption

The all-encompassing quality of disruption spells doom for digital dinosaurs, but are there some things it just can't do?

I’m not an expert on disruptive technologies, but I have been in the technology business for some time and have observed a common theme about those who inhabit the “bleeding edge” of innovation. Usually if you work with a technology that is considered disruptive, your thinking is going to be disruptive too – at least most of the time.

The all-encompassing quality of disruption goes a long way to explaining why the old incumbent technologies, the digital dinosaurs, are often caught out when the new guy comes along to grab some of their heavily-defended turf. The new guy is thinking disruptively, not only in his technology, but also in his approach to bringing that technology to market.

New tech means new sales thinking, new marketing and communications thinking. Except that it doesn’t, at least not in one very important way where tradition trumps transformation.

To see why, let’s go way back to the emergence of Google. In those early days, anyone familiar with how internet services were launching knew that what Google was doing was different even by dot-com bubble standards. Instead of a marketing/media blitz, you had a simple-looking site that did something amazing: it let you search for whatever you were looking for and found it almost instantly with unrivalled relevancy. It was a simple interface, and almost overnight became the de facto gateway for the internet itself, doing away with all those other internet community portals which suddenly seemed like archaic middlemen to the wonders of the web.

Facebook followed a similar approach, scaling first through the virtual world that was relevant to it and its audience and only later looking at more traditional platforms to promote itself. Even companies whose business is largely in the physical world have defied standard channels in recent
years. Take Elon Musk’s approach with Tesla and the sale of its electric vehicles. The PayPal and SpaceX pioneer has skipped traditional car dealerships – customers go online to buy the groundbreaking cars directly from the company.

Everywhere we look, disruptive technologies simultaneously pioneer disruptive selling and communications approaches, but they usually draw the line when it comes to events, gatherings, symposia, outings, meetings, et cetera.

After all, when you are on that “bleeding edge” of technology, you can’t only wow with technical advantages, you also have to assure your audience that those technical advantages are backed by a much deeper commitment and the ability to deliver on technology’s promise. Steve Jobs did it. Elon Musk does it. Just recently, 60,000 people went to San Francisco to attend the annual Oracle OpenWorld — 60,000! — and the media was abuzz when Larry Ellison missed the keynote (even though he had the best reason in the world, his winning America’s Cup team).

Physical presence matters, because in the end, technology depends on the human platform. Basically, wherever there’s an opportunity to meet face-to-face, no one, no matter how disruptive they are, dares to ignore that chance for live engagement. I have just completed two major events
in recent weeks: Gartner and vForum. I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.

Here’s why. Your technology can be easy to operate, it can simplify a million processes, it can liberate your workforce and fuel your business’ growth. But if your tech is really groundbreaking, chances are that it will need more than a bit of explaining, because disruption disrupts – it radically alters the way people work and even the way they look at the world, which means there’s probably going to be built-in resistance to it.

“People stick with what they know even long after it becomes clear that what they know isn’t working very well for them.” This is what a partner, who recently made the move to convergence, told us when he was explaining why people don’t always seize the benefits of new technology.

The theme here is people. Technology exists for them. And it takes people to convince other people of the value of new technology. The more disruptive, the more people investment is critical. There is nothing like being able to see that someone really understands what your technology can do. Live interaction goes beyond merely explaining something, it is about building credibility and trust.

Wayne Neich is managing director Australia/New Zealand, Nutanix