Col Ernest Swinton, who is Alex Low’s great great great uncle played a part in the development and adoption of the tank during the First World War.
Late in 1917, after 400 British tanks had, with modest success, lumbered across the German lines at the battle of Cambrai, there was a radical plan put together to use the tank more effectively.
A new and faster tank, the Medium D, could travel 200 miles at a speed of 20 miles an hour. It was proposed that the tanks would attack the German brain, the HQ miles behind the front line. A Medium D could cross the German lines and “destroy” the German HQ with an hour. With air support, disrupting road and rail, it was proposed that the tank put put a swift end to the war.
This was Plan 1919 with the conclusion “Bad news confuses, confusion stimulates panic”.
It all seems too simple to us now, like, why wouldn’t you do this? But it became the most famous unused plan of the First World War! You may notice, that in fact the plan was used in the Second World War, it’s name then, Blitzkrieg.
Organisations have always struggled to innovate, or when they come up with a new plan, have struggled to know what to do with it. Kodak, (Steven Sasson) in 1989, invented the Digital Camera but locked it away, as they couldn’t see how something that cannibalised their film business would help them.
Xerox invented the graphical user interface (GUI), but it was Microsoft and Apple that went on to capitalise on this invention. Xerox, is still a photocopier company.
In 1918, the British had the best if not the only Tanks in the world, but we were not able to capitalise on it and in fact our “competitors” took that technology and used it against us.
So why is it that while there are some of the best inventions in the world do people not to have the ability to capitalise on this inventions? As one senior Office in the British Army said “These Tanks are all very interesting, but let’s get back to some real soldiering!”. Why? Because the army was built on calvary, there was a vested interest to keep and maintain the horses. People liked the bright buckles and the shinny boots.
The Top man at the British Army, Field Marshal Sir Archibald Montgomery-Massinberd responded to German militarisation by increasing the amount spent on forage for horses by a factor of 10. In fact Cavalry offices would get a second horse and Tank officers would get a horse as well.
“Disruption describes what happens when firms fail because they keep making the same kind of choices that made them successful” – Joshua Gans. More horses! More forage!
Why does this happen? In his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” Clayton Christensen talks about the fact that inventions often creep up on people. Many people rejected mobile phones, in terms of the old “brick” phone. But once Nokia could fit them in your pocket, there was mass adoption.
The disrupter sells their products to the early adopters, the people at the leading edge, often called the bleeding edge. The technology or the process gets better and better, until the point where the upstart disrupter is now a challenger and even the market leader.
This happened when Oracle invented the Relational Database (RDMS) and they out innovated the existing suppliers selling either C-Isam files or the IDMS. At the point that the incumbent suppliers work out what is happening the what was once loyal customers have jumped ship.
That is one theory of innovation and disruption, but Kodak and Blockbuster had seen the future, in fact they knew about the disruption coming ahead of everybody else.
In 1990, a young economist named Rebecca Henderson published an article with Kim Clark that presented a different view of why it’s hard for organisations to do “new” things.
Dominant organisations are prone to stumble when the new technology requires a new organisational structure. An innovation might be radical but if it fits the structure that already exists then the incumbent first has a good chance of carrying it’s lead from the old world to the new world.
If you take IBM, it was able to transform from Mainframe supplier to big companies to PC supplier to big companies, as in fact the technology fitted the same business model. But when PCs started being sold to the person in the street, they faced different challenges and ended up selling the business to Lenovo.
Xerox may have invented the GUI, but they also invented the Laser Printer, something they did understand how to take to market!
Rather than talk about disruptive innovations, Henderson and Clark use the term “architectural innovations”. An architectural innovation demands that an organisation remake itself. Why would you do that, when the salary comes in every month?
There are many parallels that can be drawn from the old business models of cold calling and the vested interest that support this. More horses! More forage! Where as, if you read most content today people know there is a new world order, because buyers are just like us. We don’t like being interrupted and broadcast at, whether it’s cold calling, cold emails or advertising.
But with so many of us “gettting this” why do we go back to our desks and implement old world solutions to meet the new world order? Is it us or our management that expect it. One person on Linkedin commented to me, “Yes, I know cold calling, cold email and advertising does not work, but these are the marketing basics and you have to do the basics.” Why do people continue to pour money into the toilet when they know they won’t get a return?
Here at Digital Leadership Associates we work totally in the new world. We are now the only global Social selling company. In fact, digital transformation through social for companies is a reality. We have defined a programatic methodology that will help companies meet the challenges of this new world order. We have social transformation programs covering, sales, marketing, human resources (HR), Supply chain, procurement. We can also help you remove email and replace it with social Enabling your business with a “quick win” as part of any digital transformation.
And the ROI, with incremental (new) revenue growth of 30%, employee efficiency increases of 25% and market share gains, why wouldn’t you?
Based on an article by Tim Harford in the Financial Times.
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