Australia has a proud history of innovation, predominantly by interesting and successful start-ups such as Cochlear, Google Maps, Atlassian and various incredible offspring of CSIRO.

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia is also renowned for large and stable oligopolies. Traditional industries such as supermarkets, airlines, banks, telcos and mass media have each been dominated by a small number of players enjoying huge market share.

Over decades of growth and ongoing success, some of these organisations have come to believe they are “too big to fail” – a statement recently made by a senior leader within a large Australian financial institution.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that disruption has landed several status-quo-shattering missiles in industries that were unprepared. Oligopolies are falling under the onslaught of offshore alternatives, digital offerings and more nimble competitors. Take mass media, where 90 per cent of growth is occurring in newer advertising platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. In the financial year ending 2017, video accounted for $894.4 million in advertising expenditure – a huge increase of 50 per cent on the previous year.

 

The path to self-disruption

Caught unaware, organisations and industries are often slow to react to external disruptions. Initiating change in advance of disruption is rare, because it’s such a challenging path to choose. Ivy League professors of business such as Harvard’s Clay Christensen have researched and outlined why self-disruption is so difficult – in fact, almost impossible.

Yet Maximus is seeing the emergence of courageous organisations taking the leap and successfully disrupting themselves, even while they are still at the height of success. These are true trailblazing organisations. Globally we see great examples, such as Netflix which disrupted its successful mail-order DVD service by offering digital streaming of content on demand, and which continues to grow through a series of innovations and iterations. Illumina is another. A traditional, successful scientific systems organisation with a market cap of $25.2 billion, it is disrupting itself to tap into one of the biggest themes in health care today – personalised or individualised medicine. Illumina is investing in how to bring DNA sequencing from the research lab into the very practice of medicine.

Locally, Suncorp is one to watch. The way in which its leadership team is positioning the company and opening up the financial services marketplace is exciting.

 

Trailblazing leaders

Maximus’ perspective is that companies do not disrupt themselves, leaders do. For businesses to achieve their potential in rapidly evolving future marketplaces, leaders at all levels must strive to be trailblazers. There are four critical elements to trailblazing leadership…

1. Turn your perspective inside out: Scan the market for changes and opportunities. Look outside your industry and be curious. Research the tactics of more nimble organisations for approaches that can transform your own operations.

2. Reassess your beliefs, favoured processes and assumptions: The way things have always been done is likely to be limiting. Test new operations technology and digital or automated offerings. Seek the opinions of your colleagues and employees to learn about opportunities for change that they have observed. What are their ambitions in the marketplace? What keeps them awake at night?

3. Embrace diverse approaches: Invite people with new thinking styles, an appetite for risk and diverse personal values into your teams. Measure things you haven’t measured before. What happens when you change your company phone greeting? Your meeting styles? We know that what gets measured gets attention, so change the measure.

4. Get closer to customers: Move yourself infield, to observe and talk to your customers. Leaders too often rely on customer data to make decisions but data is only as good as the questions asked. Conversations with customers allow us to follow up on leads and unspoken signals that data gathering doesn’t easily recognise.

If you want to discuss how you can create a culture of trailblazing leadership, do get in touch with us through the contact page.