Dec 10, 2019

How to spot inflection points in business before they happen

I was inspired by Rita McGrath at the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship Corporate Startup Lab Forum at Carnegie Mellon University. Rita is a long-time professor at Columbia University and expert on innovation and growth, and in her keynote she discussed her book, Seeing Around Corners.

The focus of Rita’s discussion was innovation. She advocated that doing innovation right takes discipline..a discipline to “see” inflection points before they happen and to give you a strategic advantage. A strategic inflection point is when the assumptions on which a business is based change significantly. It makes what you know about your business less true. Think Gillette and Dollar Shave Club.

Inflection points happen when the ecosystem is ready for a shift. The notion of an industry can create blind spots, where it is difficult to see what is coming and the status quo is the focus. Putting a discipline in place to understand indicators of what is happening outside of your areas can help address blind spots.

Rita advocates for mechanisms that direct information from the street corner to the corner office. We draw our expectations about the world from our own frames of reference. But isn’t this the inherent risk? What imagination and viewpoints are we missing from the discussion? Listen to customers and employees who see things differently than you do, and put processes in place to measure lagging, current, and leading indicators.

“Make sure we are leveraging diversity of thought. Ask yourself: Am I inviting diverse viewpoints into our discussions? Are we listening to people whose life experiences and views are different from our own? Are we all homing in on one scenario to the detriment of being able to imagine others?”

To be the disruptor, and not be disrupted, is a challenge for many organizations today– especially for mature, well-established companies. The key is for decision makers and leaders to diversify and increase their exposure to what is changing in the external marketplace. This may entail challenging the assumptions of the status quo and transforming your current core business to be next-generation.

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