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Every sacred cow was once an innovation. One day someone discovers a new technique that offers greater efficiency, it is implemented, considered best practice and its use is mandated and monitored across the organisation. It is then taught in in induction and training programs, but without the new staff being taught why it was originally developed. Before long, what was once an innovative idea is a stale habit and any efforts to challenge or change it are met with active resistance. The innovation has become a sacred cow.
One thing we know about disruption is that it is definitively unpredictable. Perhaps the most unprecedented disruption businesses have faced in recent years has been that of environmental sustainability. As awareness of climate change and its dangers has grown exponentially in the last few years, with student protests filling cities and legislation being passed in many countries, businesses are having to respond to the overwhelming consumer demand for environmental sustainability in products.
“The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles.”
I love the pertinence of this statement of Oren Harari for our culture. As a former business professor at the University of San Francisco, he is sure to know a thing or two about the trends and changes in the business world over the last few decades, and with this one, I believe he is exactly right.
Imagine a world where you enter a retail store and are instantly identified by your mobile phone. Your preferences, credit card details and buying history are immediately recognized along with your identity and from that moment on, the entire in-store experience is customized to your needs and desires. You select products either by scanning a code on your smartphone or by placing items in a physical shopping cart the old-school way. When you are finished shopping, your shopping tally is calculated as you walk past sensors near the exit and the amount owing is immediately charged to your default credit card.
Sound fanciful or futuristic? Well this is almost precisely the automated retail experience shoppers are already enjoying in Amazon’s recently opened bricks-and-mortar retail stores.
‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’
This old proverb has been renowned and repeated through the decades, declaring that it is impossible to retrain someone or something that is aged and set in its ways. In our current age of disruption in the world of business, this is a toxic way of thinking that destroys the companies which live by it.
Over the last week the world has watched as the restaurant empire of Jamie Oliver has partially crumbled. After struggling in many of its branches in the last few years and several attempts to revive it in investments, the UK branch has collapsed.