October 13, 2020

Long-term growth is outside of your bubble

Zoja Kukic

Sometimes it feels like there is a huge wall between different industries and that nobody out there ever talks between each other.

One easy example is Slack, software for team collaboration and communication. Almost every tech company in the world is using it and it has positively disrupted their internal communication. Still, in other industries, the use of this software was so rare. But, once Microsoft introduced a very similar tool, Teams, and offered it as a part of the Office package, in less than three years, it surpassed Slack in the number of users.

Obviously, other industries got the value from a tool like this, but they needed 3 years to understand it. They didn’t start using it until everybody did. This time, it happened through a new product offered by an existing supplier, which made the adoption easier. Similar scenarios are happening all the time, like when everybody started investing in e-commerce and digital marketing only once the global pandemic hit.

Digital transformation is also a good example for this asynchrony among industries. It has become a default way forward only a few years ago. Before, you often heard excuses that it works with consumer-facing products, but not with B2B, or that it is great for industries, but not for services, etc.

Still, we are reassured at every corner (in our bubble) that not all industries are in danger and that we still have time. This is why I like to look at how bubbles in the graph below move over time, and especially now in the time of COVID-19 pandemic. Check out where “Health” is.

Focusing might lead to lower adaptability

It is in human nature to be contrarian to change, as it is to be in our comfort zone. We talk with people from our industry, about the things we know and we give each other false sense of security.

We convince ourselves that our customers are not yet ready to embrace online shopping, even though these same customers are already purchasing other similar products online. Or that our services are so tailor-made that they still can’t be digitalised.

Examples of this type of thinking can be found everywhere — major car manufacturers were late to start developing self-driving technology, Kodak and Fuji failed to own digital photography, video clubs were eaten alive by streaming platforms, etc.

From these listed examples, it is interesting to notice that Fuji is still alive and thriving, mainly thanks to the fact that they moved to another industry through realising that the skills of their people don’t lie in making (digital) photography, but in chemistry.

Although they were late for the digital photography train, they managed to embark on another one through understanding what is happening in another industry and, to be more precise, what are the needs of television producers.

How to expand our views?

If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. This is a good test to ensure that we are growing beyond where we currently are. But, there is one other thing we need to do in order to get fully out of our bubble — find ways to surround yourself with people from other industries, or levels.

These questions might help you understand if you are in the bubble:

  • Go through your LinkedIn and check out first 20 posts. Are most of them by people from your industry or expertise?
  • What does your calendar look like? Did you attend some events which are not focused on your specific area of interest? Did you spend more than 6 hours on meetings with people from other industries or organizations?
  • Are all your most read business websites or newsletters focused only on your industry and expertise?

If answers to at least two out of those three questions is “Yes” — you are in the bubble. First step to change it would be to change the ratio on these three segments.

When it comes to organizations, we at Signet World saw several things that work in practice, such as:

  • Reverse mentoring, in which a senior employee seeks to gain business insights from a less experienced younger individual (it can be an employee, but can be someone outside of the organization),
  • Collaborating with startup hubs and accelerators is a good way to get immersed in a different culture and mindset, and can even be quite a dramatic shift,
  • Joining professional networks and events, which are not industry or geography specific, might be a good first step to meet different people and learn from them,
  • Start learning about some new emerging topic — from blockchain to circular economy. It will help you change your default thinking and start looking at your business and industry in another way. 

Of course, the key ingredient for these and any others to work is to be open to hear something completely different. We need to stop our ego. And to do much more listening than talking.