There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired

In The Great Gatsby there is a fantastic quote: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired". I'm not sure F Scott Fitzgerald had business disruption in mind, but it struck me that when it comes to Digital Transformation any given company falls into one of those categories.

The Pursued are those companies aware that they are faced with an existential threat from whatever wave of disruption is heading their way. The Pursuing, in contrast are those that are riding the wave, using disruption (typically in the form of new technology) to try to eat the lunch of more venerable and well established organisations. I'm not so worried about these two types of organisations. They're both aware of what's going on. The companies that most interest me are the Busy and the Tired.

'Busy' companies are those that are too obsessed with their current activities to pay enough attention to what is on the horizon. This is a pretty common. It's all too easy to neglect competitive intelligence and external focus, particularly when there's work to do! And being busy implies that things are going well. The perception of these companies is that there aren't any existential threats on the horizon. The problem is that they're too busy, or arrogant, to look.

Back in the dim and distant past I used to plot companies on a 2x2 matrix of arrogance vs ignorance. If you're ignorant as an organisation (i.e. you don't understand the threats facing you) it's fine as long as you're not also too arrogant to find help (he says, as one of those companies that used to provide the help). Even those that wouldn't be characterised as ignorant can be scuppered by being too arrogant, overestimating their ability to face down competitive threats (Blockbuster wasn't ignorant of Netflix after all).

So the key for a Busy company is to 'make the time' to understand what threats might be coming down the pike. This might involve establishing a capability to properly scope out competitive threats and carve out resources to develop responses to it. I've blogged a lot elsewhere about exactly this.

The 'Tired', in contrast, are those that simply can't summon up the energy to make any significant changes to what they do. So they may be aware of the threats but are unable to organise themselves sufficiently to make the changes necessary. Overcoming internal inertia is probably the biggest barrier to success in embracing new technologies. I've said before, for instance, that adopting IoT is more of a change management issue than it is a technical one. The Tired are those that aren't able to translate a technical opportunity into a commercial one.

Old sport.