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How continuing disruption drives sustained success

Even if your entire firm doesn't need renovating, you can still improve segments of it

Feb 11, 2019 @ 2:56 pm

By Eric Clarke

In the modern business world, sustainable company success depends on continual disruption. I learned this nearly 20 years ago as a young entrepreneur attending the Schwab Impact conference, where the keynote speaker, Guy Kawasaki, opened my eyes to his experiences as an innovator at Apple during the early 1980s.

CEO Steve Jobs, unwilling to coast on the success of the Apple II personal computer, asked Mr. Kawasaki to head up a development team that would work in a separate office about 10 miles from Apple headquarters. Their mission: To think like a startup company trying to put Apple out of business.

In that innovative environment, Mr. Kawasaki and his team produced the famed Macintosh model. His powerful speech at that long-ago Schwab conference taught me to avoid becoming too comfortable with success. We should constantly seek ways to disrupt and improve ourselves.

(More: The innovation challenge: What's holding you back?)

Differing disruptions

Methods of industry disruption can vary greatly depending on whether the disrupter is a new or established company.

For new entrepreneurs, I recommend identifying an existing provider that has a high market share but a low Net Promoter Score, which is a measure of how willing a company's customers are to recommend its products or services. Regardless of the industry, this combination represents a market ripe for disruption and an enticing entrepreneurial opportunity.

For an established company in the financial advisory or fintech realm, I endorse emulating the strategy of Steve Jobs. Ask yourself, "If I started a new business today in my space, what would I do differently?" Then challenge yourself by asking, "So why aren't we doing that?"

Even if your entire firm doesn't need renovating, you can still improve segments of it, such as asset management, operations, or sales and marketing.

In adopting this approach, business owners and managers will often find that supposed barriers to innovation are actually self-imposed. If you're not willing to knock those barriers down, I can all but guarantee your competitors will.

Outrunning the rest

Speaking of competitors, you need to keep your eyes on more than your direct rivals. Entrepreneurs must compete with the changes in technology, tastes and expectations that come with the passage of time.

In General Electric's Annual Report for 2000, the legendary Jack Welch offered his famous quote: "When the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. The only question is when."

Mr. Welch said that it was "unnatural" for companies to learn to love change, but that it's a force we must embrace in order to thrive. This mentality should be encouraged among all employees.

Whether they're advisers or the people who build the tools advisers use, entrepreneurs who seek sustained success need people who are willing to ask, "What are we doing to accelerate our own rate of change? What can we do to make sure that as we grow, we continue to innovate?"

(More: Boomers still loom large in the future — but don't count millennials out)

Eric Clarke is the founder and CEO of Orion Advisor Services. Follow him @EricRClarke.

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