‘Disruption can come from anywhere’

Innovation strategy consultant Shawn Kanungo helps executives assess the threats and capitalize on opportunities.

 In 2004, Shawn Kanungo, a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), was hired as part of the finance and research team at Asian newspaper chain Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.

"Part of my job was to research trends," he says. The innovation under consideration: Switching from broadsheet to  tabloid format so that people could read the papers more easily on the train.

"That was what our competitors were doing," Kanungo says. "We didn't even look at digital innovation — social, mobile and cloud. That was a huge failure on my part."

The problem? Kanungo looked at what was going on in the newspaper industry, but he never looked outside that industry. It's a mistake he hasn't made since. "Lesson learned," he says. "Disruption can come from anywhere."

The word "disruption" gets thrown around a lot, Kanungo says, and it means different things to different people. He has his own definition. "Disruption happens when someone comes into a space, destroys the status quo and then changes the game forever."

Consider, for instance, what Uber did to the taxi business and Airbnb to the hotel business. These are dramatic and conspicuous examples, no doubt, but Kanungo contends that "every industry is being disrupted in part because of the exponential weight of new technologies and, in part, because of globalization. New ideas and customer experiences are coming from everywhere."

As an innovation strategy consultant with Deloitte Canada in Edmonton, Kanungo aims to help corporate executives understand and plan for the opportunities and threats associated with disruptive innovation.

Too often, he says, long-standing organizations are designed to be operationally efficient, but not to evolve. And when disruptive forces come into play, they are often "paralyzed by inaction."

He points to a training company that hired him as a consultant to help chart the future of education for its managers.

When he told them it was crucial that trainers understand how to edit and produce a video, they objected. "We have so much on our plates already," they said. "We don't have time to learn this."

While few people willingly embrace change, there's really no choice but to adapt, he told them. "This is what the market demands. If you don't pay attention and give the market what it wants, it will run over you."

Kanungo credits his ability to walk into different companies and understand the foundations of their business model quickly at least in part to his early training as a CPA. "I saw a lot of organizations from the inside out," he says. "And I think having that insight is fundamental because innovation can come from so many different angles."

When companies are true game changers, they don't just drive innovation from their technology group, Kanungo contends, but from across the organization. They question everything — from their business model to their partnerships, corporate structure, customer service, delivery channels and their brand and customer experience. "If you have a holistic view of the company, you can unearth opportunities for innovation everywhere," he says.

7 tips for staying ahead of disruption

  • Ensure your organization has a digital mindset and understands the basics of the technologies that are out there today and what’s on the horizon.
  • Immerse yourself in disruption. Find out what other organizations are doing, both inside and outside your industry.
  • Observe how things are being done inside your organization.  Be a fly on the wall and watch how people work. Ask stupid questions to build insights into what they’re doing and consider how they might do it better.
  • Try to look at every aspect of your organization with a critical eye. Truly innovative companies look beyond their technology group, seeking opportunities from across the company that will increase efficiency, lower costs and improve the customer experience.
  • Being able to try new things and fail are crucial keys to learning.
  • Empower your teams to innovate and give them the tools and technology they need.
  • Integrate the roles of chief financial officer, chief technology officer and chief marketing officer and give them all a seat at the strategy table.