It’s all well and good to compare yourself with yourself, so you can keep improving. And it’s sometimes worth looking at the competition, so you can strive to be (or continue to be) the market leader. But if that’s all you do, you leave yourself exposed to external forces.
Assess its impact
You can’t always predict external forces. But you can train yourself to be more aware of them, so at least they are at the back of your mind.
To develop this mindset, whenever you see or hear about anything new (for example, some new technology or a novel solution to a problem), consider its impact at four levels:
Ask whether this could completely replace something you do in your organisation - in other words, it makes that function obsolete. For example, this could apply to technology replacing human roles, such as the lift operator, typist, or telephone operator.
Thinking this way isn’t necessarily negative. If it replaces a slow, cumbersome, or expensive task, it could be very useful. And if it could replace something profitable, isn’t it better to know that yourself rather than waiting for a competitor to make you obsolete?
The next level is where the innovation helps you improve the way you perform that function, so you can be more efficient or effective. Of course, we see this in hundreds of small ways - such as a spell checker helping a writer, cruise control helping a driver, even a remote control helping a couch potato! It helps you do something more effectively, more efficiently, with fewer errors, or in some other useful way.
The next level is where the innovation frees people up from performing that function, so they can focus on doing more important things instead. The innovation might replace the human in that task, but frees her up to do something more important.
For example, in education, some schools are experimenting with the ‘Flip the Classroom’ model, where teachers delegate the routine task of presenting content to technology - in the form of things like online courses, videos, and virtual reality experiences. When the students are in the classroom, the teacher helps them with problem solving, collaboration, ideas generation, and all the other things that technology just can’t do yet.
Finally, the highest level is to leverage the innovation to create completely new opportunities, possibly with entirely new products, services, or business models. Instead of asking only how this innovation will affect a specific role, we ask ‘How else could we use this?’
For example, in its early days, Netflix - which we now know as a streaming media service - was a DVD rental service, where customers could rent DVDs from the Netflix website. When Internet access improved to the stage where customers could download or stream movies, Netflix stopped posting DVDs to customers and switched to downloadable / streaming content.
What’s YOUR mindset when you see something new?
Every time you hear about some new technology or trend, rather than just dismissing it because it’s not directly related to your industry, ask:
- “How could this affect me?”
- “How could this affect my organisation?”
- “How could this affect my industry?”
Consider both the positives and negatives - that is, the opportunities and the threats. The threats might be the long-term effects of this replacing you, and it’s responsible to consider these threats. But also explore the opportunities for it to assist and elevate your roles, and consider how it could completely transform your products, services, or entire organisation.
Do you automatically go to the most limited scenario - where this just replaces something?
Or could you be a bit more open-minded, and see how it could assist or elevate people?
And what about being a real possibility thinker, and imagine how you could leverage it into something completely different?