Driving disruptive thinking

Ultimately, any resistance to establishing a policy of organisation-wide disruptive thinking could pose a risk to the long-term sustainability of a business. And with a disruptive thinking vacuum at the top of many channel organisations it’s time to take control, according to this month’s panel of industry experts...

How can business leaders seize the opportunity to establish disruptive thinking as a marker in their company’s path to differentiation, competitiveness and ultimate longevity? We asked this month’s line up of experts – Tony Van Den Berge, Director EMEA Partner Organisation, Amazon Web Services (pictured); ANS CEO Paul Shannon; Cloudreach Head of Application Development Jason Sutherland; and Emma King, Marketing Director for Europe, Ensono.

Why do channel companies need to build disruptive thinking into their leadership team?
Tony Van Den Berge:
To survive, resellers need to undo some of the things they’ve been doing, which requires that they build disruptive thinking into their business at all levels. At Amazon, this is encompassed in what we call our ‘Day 1’ philosophy, which is founded on the belief that great companies never abandon a start-up mentality. To remain relevant, organisations need to move fast and be able to quickly embrace new trends. Those that get caught up in process, which stifles creative thinking, get pushed into ‘Day 2’ companies and risk irrelevance and decline. Disruptive thinking and embedding a ‘Day 1’ mind set into the culture of the organisation is fundamental to its long-term survival.

This is especially true for MSPs whose business model has been disrupted in recent years through the adoption of cloud and the shift from traditional on-premises data centres to hyper-scale cloud solutions. Today, building a successful cloud managed services practice begins with a company’s ability to foster and develop a cloud-first and Day 1 culture focused on automation and innovation. To do this, you need to start with the commitment and dedication of the leadership team who need to be at the centre of innovation. Without the guidance, funding and sponsorship of senior leadership, transformation plans can, and often do, fail, stall or fall far short of their full potential.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has always said, ‘If you’re going to take bold bets, they’re going to be experiments and if they’re experiments, you don’t know ahead of time if they’re going to work. Experiments are, by their very nature, prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work’. This is one of the foundational principals of Amazon and something we teach customers about when moving to the cloud.

Paul Shannon: Disruptive thinking should be ingrained in every leadership team. Leaders should recognise that just because they’re doing something a certain way doesn’t mean they should do it that way forever. Once you’ve got a truly disruptive leadership team you can begin to filter this throughout the whole organisation, so your employees have the freedom to suggest changes and new approaches that mean your customers and organisation benefit.

Jason Sutherland: Building disruptive thinking into your leadership team is necessary if you are going to find the next edge of innovation. But it’s not just about the leadership team, it’s important to promote innovation throughout the organisation. Leaders should set an example and promote the idea of free thinking and make sure that everyone spots opportunities to differentiate. One of the most important traits of a successful organisation is to encourage disruptive, innovative thinking through a culture of openness. If you can provide the forums to promote those ideas you’ll overcome the majority of the challenges that you have.

Emma King: MSPs are relied upon in the industry for their vision to innovate and transform how clients optimise and modernise their IT operations. Leaders need to exemplify this approach, encouraging teams to think differently. This is best supported by a working environment that empowers employees to disrupt the status quo.

How best should resellers overcome inside the box thinking, and how important is it for them to think outside the box?
Tony Van Den Berge:
When it comes to innovation and development, very few people know what is going to work straight away, so it’s important to try things. This is where the culture of continuous innovation, fail fast methodology, and agile come into play. Ensure you’re being scientific and promoting a mindset of experimentation, and advise employees to try different things and learn from their mistakes. Once you’ve got this you will be promoting psychological safety within your organisation. At this point, you know you’re becoming more successful.

While this advice has been around for years, very few companies sit down and promote this mindset and the tools that go along with it. Everyone has a good idea, but you have to give people the tools to try those ideas, innovate and fail fast. It’s not just about encouraging surface level disruptive thinking. Ensure you have the mechanisms to promote outside of the box thinking and a Day 1 mentality.

Paul Shannon: A big problem that is often overlooked is ego. Lots of businesses are run by people that believe success is down to them and their thinking. This is hugely detrimental when cultivating disruptive thinking. It can hamstring any business and a board when they go through various stages of growth. The best way to encourage the board and the leadership team to think differently is by inviting other people into the room. Our senior leadership team meetings are attended by three people that aren’t directors. We’ve compared the difference in the meetings when these three people attend and when they don’t attend, and found the quality of the meeting and level of innovation has always been greatly enhanced when they are in the room. This is one of the most important changes you can make to help you think outside the box.

Jason Sutherland: Two things are important here. First, leaders must lean on their organisations to execute their ideas. They need to be good at framing what it is they’re looking for, and they need to make sure they guide the thinking, while not explicitly saying what they’re looking for. Second, it is vital to unlock autonomy. If you don’t break outside the box you run the risk of being singular in terms of how you think of yourself in the market.

Emma King: Inside the box thinking is best overcome by a willingness to embrace change. So many leaders are held back by a fear of failure, unwilling to threaten the status quo that may be delivering good results for a company. Instead, business leaders need to reorient their mindset and think creatively about the problems facing their industry and what solutions they can offer.

The success of disruptive thinking and executing on sound strategies hinges on decision making. What tips can you offer to help the decision making process?
Tony Van Den Berge:
Many companies make high quality decisions, but they make them slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of a Day 1 company you have to make high quality, high velocity decisions. This is easy for start-ups and very challenging for larger organisations, but speed matters in business. So don’t just settle for quality decisions, be mindful of decision velocity too.

Paul Shannon: Failing to make any decision is a lot worse than making the wrong one. Making tough, far reaching decisions is certainly one of the most difficult aspects of my job. If you happen to make the wrong call, you just need to take responsibility and have the guts to get back out there and make another decision. At the end of the day, you bear that responsibility as a leader, no matter how heavily it may weigh on you.

Jason Sutherland: Number one is to actually have a decision making process, a kind of ‘meta model’ around how we think we’re making our decisions. This comes back to a lot of organisations not actually understanding where their value leaders are, meaning they’re not sure what they’re trying to take to the market or what they’re trying to do. The Google OKR is a great model of framing your thinking: What are the objectives? What are the key results? Most importantly, how are you going to quantify and measure?  

Emma King: Successful decision making relies on a clear strategy set from the top. As part of this, leaders need to set a culture where employees feel safe and empowered to innovate. Blame behaviours have to be clamped down upon and replaced with accountability.

Which areas of the market should resellers be most mindful of when aligning their disruption strategies?
Tony Van Den Berge:
The successful next generation MSPs that are able to effectively deploy their disruption strategies have followed a path of specialisation and differentiation. Next generation MSPs must decide which areas, solutions, industries, verticals and use cases they want to build specific expertise in. Normally, those areas tend to be where they have a proven track record with solid customer success stories. At AWS we help next generation MSPs build a differentiation plan that incorporates every facet of the business, making sure that the plan is aligned with their overarching business strategy.

Paul Shannon: You need to know your vertical inside out before you start worrying about which disruptive strategies you’re going to apply. If you choose a disruptive strategy that doesn’t align with the verticals where you’ve spent years building a reputation and credibility, then there’s no point operating with that disruptive strategy in the first place. My advice is to focus on what you do really well in a particular vertical and just go for it with a well researched and applicable disruptive strategy.

Jason Sutherland: Resellers should lean on their partner relationships and really understand what the roadmaps look like for those vendors. If you’re providing value on top of someone else’s portfolio, which we all are, then actually understanding what the portfolio is going to look like over three, six or 12 months is very important. Also, be mindful of what partnerships are happening within the wider industry.
Emma King: Innovation is frequently impeded by the lack of flexibility in a business’s IT infrastructure. But cloud computing provides a perfect platform to support disruptive thinking and business model innovation.

Top tips from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on how to make key decisions

• Never use a one-size-fits-all decision making process. Many decisions are reversible.
• Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 per cent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 per cent, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Either way, you need to be good at quickly recognising and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive.
• Use the phrase ‘disagree and commit’. This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?’. By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.
• Identify true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision. 


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