Business founders: when to disrupt or innovate and when to stick with your vision

You’re an entrepreneur, so a few years ago you founded a company. Since then you’ve grown your team and now you make the big decisions. The pressure is on and you know you need to innovate and stay on your toes to succeed.

When you spot opportunities you pivot your team. And every opportunity is important.

I bring news from the trenches. It’s your responsibility to disrupt and innovate but do it in a measured way. Control the chaos.

The case for disruption and innovation

Hopefully by now (after all, you’ve been running things for a few years already) you have a clear vision of your organisation’s goals over the next 3/6/9 months and you’ve shared this vision with your team (if not, why not — get it done!). You’ve inspired your team and set the tone for what happens next. You might even have a 90 day plan for the next big thing. Nice leadership skills. Go you!

As your talented team blasts full steam ahead towards the goals you set them, you spot an opportunity and you realise that, actually, there is a much better direction you could all be heading in. You don’t know how you could have missed it! What were you thinking?

And so you pivot the team like you’ve always done. A couple of years ago this was easy, and it’s still pretty straight forward despite the bigger team size, because they’re talented after all, and they don’t complain that much, and because they trust you to make wise decisions as their leader. Phew. That was close. Disaster averted — you nearly took everyone down the wrong path.

With your revised vision in their sights, the team moves off again in the general direction of the new goals. Maybe not everyone is entirely sure why the first set of goals changed, especially as you had seemed so confident in them a few weeks ago. And you’d like to have spent more time sharing your reasoning with everyone to make sure they really got it but you’re more busy than ever now you pivoted.

The case for sticking with your vision

The team settle in to the new rhythm. All is fine for a couple more weeks and they begin to deliver what you asked of them. And then you have that special Eureka moment that you love so much! You realise that if you pivoted again you’d be able to keep your team on their toes and beat the competition too.

And you feel super excited about it … this time it’s going to be AMAZING! You look around your team, and instead of manic grins mirroring your own, you see resigned faces drop, accompanied by the sad sound of sighing. You’re sure you’ve heard that noise before but you can’t quite put your finger on where …

If reading this leaves you feeling a little queasy, and your hands clammy, there’s every chance that you my friend are a disruption junkie.

How do I know this?

This was me for a while. And I can tell you that if you don’t mend your ways the road ahead is going to be a rocky one, and you’re going to get there a lot slower than you thought. If you get there at all.

My qualifications

I founded my first digital business in 2001, growing the team to 15 people. At the same time I consulted on technical and product transformation projects for enterprise organisations in the banking and finance sectors.

At the end of 2014 I wound my company down and in January 2015 joined the senior team at We Are Base. The founder of Base, Tom Quay, has been building a stable team of free thinking, highly talented and engaged people for 8 years, and I’m proud to be co-creating the next chapter for the group with him.

However, as a founder and director of my own company for 14 years, I had to learn to overcome my addiction to disruption. Don’t get me wrong. When I said this I meant it:

Leaders have a responsibility to disrupt and innovate

This is clearly true for those of us who work in tech and digital. But it would be a mistake to think that any area other part of our societies can avoid this. Museums, libraries, hospitals, schools, bus and taxi operators; all must innovate, be disrupted, or perish.

Finding the balance

There is no hard and fast rule of when to stick to your plan but here are a few things to consider:

  • Layout your vision and share until you’re bored hearing it. Wheneveryone in your organisation can explain the vision clearly to an outsider, you’re work here is done. Rehearse as often as you can. Encourage other to hold you to the vision. Or pivot properly (see below)
  • Set goals for the next 100 days and stick to them. Decide on 3 key objectives you will achieve in that time as an organisation. Then fill in the gaps. Remember that each change to scope, and every customisation to satisfy a particular customer/client, is going to slow you down. At the beginning of the next 100 days, be brave about what you do next.
  • Pivot properly. If you truly believe the pivot is vital, then spend the time necessary to bring everyone along on that ride with you (see ‘Layout your vision and share it until you’re bored hearing it’ above).
  • Trust and respect your team. If you’ve given them the chance they will be on the journey with you. Ask their opinions. They are on your side. And they care. Allow them to co-create your vision.
  • Be brave. Brave enough to stick to your guns. Brave enough to say no to opportunities. And yes, occasionally, be brave enough to flip your vision if you are sure you can pivot properly.

Take action now

If you, or anyone you know, has been affected by any of the issues raised here, or if you think you might be a disruption junkie, please share your story below. Our team of trained specialists are on hand to tell you to calm down, or help you stick to the great idea you had last month!

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