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When reading a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by James Allworth called “Empathy: The Most Valuable Thing They Teach at HBS,” there was a line at the end that really stood out to me:

…this story seems to repeat itself over and over for disrupted companies: they go out of business wanting to sell to customers what they want to sell to customers, rather than what customers want to buy.

Allworth was discussing the false perception that Blockbuster convinced itself of when dealing with the disruptive technology that Netflix brought in during the early 2000’s. Blockbuster failed to look at the market from the customer’s point of view, and instead bounced ideas off the insular community of its internal perspective and thought that its two options were:

  1. create its own disruptive service (with all the risks that come with it); or,
  2. continue business as normal
As Allworth puts it, they failed to see the world as it was becoming, but rather as a snapshot of how it existed at that moment. In reality, option number two was not an option at all, it was a path that led them to failure and eventual bankruptcy. 
We focus mainly on the administrative side of law firms on this blog, with me primarily looking at libraries, records and knowledge management. Reading this HBR article made me think about whether we are providing the services that we want to provide, or if we are providing the services that our customers actually want to receive? It brought me back to the post I wrote last month on thinking like a startup. Are we surrounding ourselves with others that think like us, especially those in our professional association ranks, or are we bringing in smart people that challenge our traditional thinking and make us look at what we do from a different perspective? Are we empathetic toward our core customers as well as thinking of ways to change what we do in order to bring in the next generation of customers?

Allworth’s article lead me to this great 8 minute video of Clay Christensen (embedded below) where he describes what disruptive innovation means. I especially like the discussion around the 3-minute mark where Christensen discusses the dilemma that GM and Ford faced when Japanese car makers challenged their market share and how now the Japanese are facing a similar challenge from the Korean car market. Change seems to be the only constant in today’s business world and continuing to give more of the same (whether it is services or products) will only lead to someone else pushing you out of the market because they have brought in the disruptive innovation and replaced you.

I like Allworth’s topic of being surrounded by smart people that challenge your way of thinking; of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and viewing what you do, and see it from other perspectives. We may find that what we consider to be valuable services to us, are no longer valued by those that we think we serve. Eventually, we may find that the most valuable services we should provide do not exist at the moment, and those we should be providing that service to are not even our current customers. Sounds like disruptive innovation starts by disrupting our own beliefs first.

Clay Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and the world’s most influential management guru according to the Thinkers50, lays out his landmark theory.