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This has been a year of a surprises. I landed in the States two days after the US Election. This meant meetings were with stunned-looking Californians who were in a state of disbelief. A Silicon Valley friend put it simply ‘It’s not just technology that disrupts and surprises in this world at the moment – it’s everything.

The one thing we can predict is that change will happen and we will need to anticipate or ride the waves of disruption fast. It’s challenging because often the direction of change is still hypothetical. It’s also very tough for the big organisations who are supertankers which makes them strong and powerful but hard to turnaround at speed.

“Speed is the real disruptor. You don’t have to be first to do something but you do have to be fast.”
And speed is the key. Businesses need to move hyperquickly. The new disruptors are disrupting fast. Skyscanner – at 60 million users per month – has just been bought by Ctrip for 1.4 billion – it was founded only 15 years ago. Dollar Shave Club was bought for 1 billion by Unilever after only 5 years of being in business. Marriott felt pretty good that it reached 100 million rooms at the end of the last year – a great goal to celebrate. It took them 86 years. Airbnb reached a million rooms at around the same time. It took them 7 years. Uber established a presence in 58 countries and reached a $58 billion valuation in 5 years.

So if disruption rules, what are the rules of disruption? Here are three ways to take hold of the future yourself, fast.

You need to stand for something in this crowded universe. Brands must ally themselves to a purpose that will resonate with people from a human perspective. People buy emotionally and then justify rationally. So however good your product, find the story that will connect at a human level to get real breakthrough.

Purpose in communications has become an increasingly important competitive advantage. My favourite breakthrough brand of recent years is Always whose award-winning ‘Like A Girl’ campaign accelerated the brand and delivered a truly disruptive message in the category. The You-Tube videos associated with this have now been viewed over 1 billion times. Not bad for a feminine protection product in a world of only 7 billion people.

Purpose also powerfully motivates a movement internally. Real brand disruption comes from ‘insight in’ where there’s a real understanding of the consumer However, critically it only really happens ‘inside out’ as well – when the organisation is aligned behind the purpose and teams and people really believe in what they are doing to deliver something positive to people. It’s not about CSR, it’s about believing your brand has a role in the world – like Airbnb whose purpose is to create a world where you can belong anywhere and where people can live in a place, instead of just travelling to it.

Above all, a team united behind a clear purpose can make decisions based on that without endless debate or committee agreement. A strong purpose is your most important disruption and speed tool.

Understanding your customer also helps speed up decision-making and make choices that will grow your brand fast. Customers will never tell you what’s coming. But if you understand how they work, how they respond, your decision-making ‘instinct’ will work better and you will have the confidence to be braver. To disrupt and breakthrough can be nerve-wracking (especially for cautious management or fretful shareholders). Clear customer insight will embolden you.

If you are a customer-centric organisation you spend your time focused on making the customer experience better – Amazon and Uber’s success is not just down to incredible technology but to mind-blowingly easy customer experience, tweaked and tweaked and tweaked. It’s people-centred and that also means design really matters. Deliveroo are one of my favourite companies at the moment and their stratospheric rise in the UK is driven by intuitive, customer-friendly design. Incidentally, you don’t have to be first to disrupt but you do have to be good. Friendster launched before Facebook – fantastic investment, quickly building to a great user base… but the customer experience sucked. So Facebook with its superior tech took over its space and the world.

The Airbnb purpose example is stunningly simple and that’s the way it should be. Above all in a world of disruption, please surround yourselves with people who obsessively focus on making things simple.

“In organisations: simplicity creates speed. Cut the complicated decision making and endless debates.”
When it comes to communication, simplicity cuts though and connects. Innocent and the innovative company Octopus both use ‘the granny rule’ with communications (does your granny understand it?). This is a great rule as well when working with global companies as native English speakers mess around with idiom and complexities which can slow down internal comprehension. In a busy, busy world simplicity feels attractive. It’s also infinitely more memorable.

In organisations: simplicity creates speed. Cut the complicated decision making and endless debates. Get to the point quickly and make it matter. It’s about language and above all, it’s about making things easy for people.

Speed is the real disruptor. You don’t have to be first to do something (Friendster and Facebook proved that as mentioned above) but you do have to be fast. And, if you focus on what the consumer will see or experience you will move both quickly and get it right.

So to disrupt with speed, identify your purpose, get as close as you can to your customer and please, please, please keep it simple. Because – really – this world is complicated enough at the moment.



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Sophie Devonshire
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