An old friend called and mentioned a conversation with a reporter from a national news organization. He attempted to explain to the reporter the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of not allowing openly gay leaders and—previous to this year—youth members was not the reason for the organization’s downward spiral in membership or fundraising. He believes it was many other changes.
He’s correct. The Boy Scouts of America—like many other businesses, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations—wasn’t able to adapt to disruption. My friend was right in that the BSA’s downfall wasn’t one thing—it was 10 or more.
Today’s leaders and communicators need to be constantly surveying the marketplace, technology and society to detect the earliest signs of disruption.
This concept was emphasized this week in an interview with R “Ray” Wang on Mitch Joel‘s podcast, “Six Pixels of Separation.” Wang is principal analyst, founder and chairman of Constellation Research in California. His new book, “Disrupting Digital Business: Create an Authentic Experience in the Peer-to-Peer Economy,” addresses change caused by technology.
He revealed two statistics on the enormity of change:
- During the last 15 years, 52 percent of Fortune 500 companies merged, were acquired or went bankrupt.
- The average age of a company listed on the Standard & Poor’s index went from 60 years to 12 years.
Disruption of this magnitude is spreading throughout the United States and the world. Digital communication is continually increasing the pace of change. The Internet eliminated barriers for business, education and culture and created unanticipated competition. The way we live and make a living is being disrupted. The amount of information available to consumers is growing and flowing faster than ever.
The problem isn’t that businesses can’t identify a trend and deal with it. The problem is there are 10 or more changes occurring simultaneously. The variety and scope of these changes require leaders and communicators to be ever more aware of the landscape in order to guide organizations. If they fail, their organizations will struggle.
Some call it digital Darwinism—adapt or die.
Mueller Communications uses four questions to help clients understand their current status and enable them to adapt:
- What are you doing to increase capacity and strength for the future?
- What are you doing to increase knowledge and understanding?
- What are you doing to create, maintain or enhance relationships and interactions with all?
- What are you doing to strengthen and clarify your purpose and values?
For those who adapt and are innovative and creative, a wonderful world is waiting. In the first chapter of the book, Wang lists five things companies must aspire to be:
Transformation focused: Incremental innovation is not enough. Organizations have to design for large-scale, company-wide transformational innovation.
Relevant: Context drives the ability to deliver mass personalization at scale.
Authentic: Digital provides trust and radical transparency through massive data backbones and open access.
Intention driven: Best practices rules and processes aren’t enough, we have to predict what’s expected next.
Networked: New people-to-people networked economies are guided by ephemeral self-interest and the ability to open up the business to co-create and co-innovate with all types of partners.
Wang believes these five areas will create a shift in how new business models are created. Communication and leadership will play key roles.
Communicators and leaders must help their organization look beyond the present environment and take time to invest in themselves and their organizations. They must create an organizational culture that promotes constant awareness, learning, strategic thinking, rapid decision making and an openness to work with all people and groups.
Disclosure: Joe Mueller is an Eagle Scout and served the Greater St. Louis Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, for 21 years, the last 19 years as its director of public relations.