Featuring Scott D. Anthony and David S. Duncan, senior partners at Innosight and authors of the new e-briefing “The ‘Big-Event Disruption’ Playbook.”

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The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic upheaval seem impossible to predict. But history shows that crises of this magnitude offer two key lessons for the future: 1) they generate changes in customer behavior that will endure long past the event, and 2) they present big opportunities for innovation. Through the lenses of disruptive innovation and customer jobs-to-be-done, business leaders can navigate today’s turbulence and uncover opportunities to innovate and grow.

In this on-demand webcast with Q&A they explore a set of questions leaders can ask themselves to find the silver lining in today’s environment, including:

  • What is our view of trends that have been catalyzed by the pandemic disruption?
  • What is our view of how our customers’ jobs-to-be-done could be dislocated?
  • What does a rebound look like for our organization?
  • What is our view of the on-the-brink disruptors today?
  • How do we maintain and even build culture during the crisis and then recovery?

Q&A with Scott Anthony and David Duncan


Download a copy of the Q&A.

Can you talk about smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 adoption specifically in the food and beverage industry? Which specific technologies and use cases in smart manufacturing are more relevant now post COVID-19?

Rather than give a specific answer, we’ll tell you how we would think about developing a specific answer. We’d return to the idea of the job-to-be-done theory. The theory predicts that customers will adopt products and services that make it simpler to address important problems they face in their lives. So the area to investigate is what new problems have emerged in the food and beverage industry where smart manufacturing would be a better solution than what currently exists. Our experience is often what is perceived as slow adoption is because solutions don’t fully address the functional, emotional, and social jobs to be done of would-be buyers.


How would the fact that college online students will not have the opportunity to participate in sports teams (affecting the college sports industry) and other purely on-site college experiences affect your view of online education?

We would note two things. First, right now, our prediction is that people will “snap back” to physical schools as soon as they can because the online education experience does not do a great job of getting the most basic job of “providing education” done. Second, you are exactly right, people hire a school for reasons that go well beyond this basic job. Our friends Michael Horn and Bob Moestra have an interesting book on this topic called Choosing College that is worth checking out.


Could you kindly elaborate “socio-economic fragmentation”? Is it the same as inequality?

During the Webinar we noted that socio-economic fragmentation is one of three meta-trends that is being impacted by COVID-19 (healthcare transformation and digital migration were the other two). Beyond inequality, there also is the possibility of lasting changes to supply chain configurations and trade policies. It is too early to know for sure how these areas will play out, but it is an important area to watch.


I’m interested in your thoughts on JTBD research in the midst of crisis. Which of these (or other) points of view do you most subscribe to? 1) Qualitative research will be too colored by the present circumstances and therefore should focus more on experiments than new qualitative discovery? 2) Now is the time to get the purest learning about what really matters to people?

This is a very interesting question. One repeated finding is that customers don’t do a great job projecting what they will do in the future. So, we’d be very skeptical of trying to talk to customers to ask what long-term changes they will make related to COVID-19. Customers can, however, do a very good job articulating the problems they face and how they think about different solutions they can hire. Therefore, our view would be that qualitative research that zeroes into unsatisfied jobs to be done would continue to be very valuable coupled with an adaptive strategy that involves running smart experiments and allows rapid reaction as circumstances change and we learn what behaviors really will stick and which won’t.


I would like to understand better how you think the professional services Industry will be impacted, considering your previous concept of the industry prior COVID-19.

In our 2017 book Dual Transformation, we identified four trends that were impacting professional services: democratized knowledge, platforms, software-based solutions, and artificial intelligence. There is no reason to suggest any of these trends are going to slow down based on COVID-19. On the other hand, leading through uncertainty is not the sort of rules-based problems that can be handled algorithmically, so there certainly remains plenty of room for human-based advisory services in the months and years ahead.


How can we set new aspirations in business leaders to think big? Most professional leaders focus too much on the short term and they don’t even think about the long term. How can we bring about change during these trying times?

We have three answers to this question. First, point leaders to the steady stream of research that demonstrates quite conclusively that companies that take long-term perspectives outperform those that take short term ones. Second, ask leaders to imagine a world that is 3, 5, 7, 10 years in the future – how ever far you need to go to get them to lift their eyes up a bit. Ask the simple question: are we prepared today to compete in tomorrow’s world? Third, highlight how every short-term decision has long-term implications. In other words, remind leaders they can either consciously think about the future and make decisions today that open up possibilities tomorrow, or they can unconsciously prioritize the present, and wake up one day facing a different kind of crisis, one where the gap between the present reality and future aspirations is simply too big to solve.


How do you persuade businesses and execs who are essentially US Steel to become Nucor and take the step to an innovation mindset?

Our Harvard Business Review article “Breaking Down the Barriers to Innovation” describes how DBS Bank in Singapore went from being a bank that biased towards obligatory compliance to one that acts like a startup at scale. A big part of that change was an effort by CEO Piyush Gupta and his leadership team to change DBS’s comparison set. Historically, DBS compared itself against local, regional, and global banks. Gupta said the pace of change in the industry meant more apt comparisons were Google, Apple, Netflix, Amazon.com, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Those weren’t accidentally chosen companies. If you put DBS in between Netflix and Amazon it forms the acronym GANDALF, the wizard from the Lord of the Rings, which became the icon for DBS’s transformation efforts. The point of the story is one way to get people to change is to change their comparison set. DBS didn’t think of banks, it thought of emerging providers that could do the jobs for which people historically hired banks, such as Alibaba, Ping An, Tencent, and Amazon.com. That led to the inevitable conclusion that DBS had to fundamentally transform.


How can we encourage or make conscious companies to innovate in times that what they are just thinking is in survive or come out of an almost dying status?

Look, there are some circumstances where it is truly all hands-on deck, the only job is to preserve the present. Consider, for example, a pure-play cruise ship operator. For most organizations, however, we are past the point of near-term survival and reaching the point of “what next?” If you are trying to make the case for innovation, start by highlighting research from Gartner, Bain, and our book The Silver Lining that presents strong evidence of the benefits of investing in innovation in the midst of downturns and dislocations. Second, make sure you make clear connections between innovation and short- and medium-term priorities. Innovation shouldn’t be viewed as a non-strategic activity in any time, but it certainly can’t be viewed as a non-strategic activity now!


Until recently companies have created competitive advantage by digitalization? Now after COVID-19 most companies will speed up their digital transformation. What could be the next steps for the very digital mature companies to maintain their competitive position?

The core framework in Dual Transformation provides a useful way to answer that question. Many companies that have driven digitalization have done so as a way to optimize their existing business model, taking advantage of digital’s speed and flexibility. The question is, how do you embrace the transformational power of digital? As the book’s title connotes, there are two different types of transformation. The first, transformation A, involves repositioning today’s business to make it more resilient. Think about Netflix moving from providing DVDs through the mail to providing streaming services, or Adobe moving from a packaged software model to a software-as-a-service model. Those are both digitally enabled ways to transform an existing business model. The second, transformation B, involves creating a new growth engine. Think about Amazon.com’s cloud computing offering, or DBS’s extensive use of APIs to allow banking to “disappear” into third-party services. Those are both digitally enabled ways to create a new business model. Digitally mature companies should look for opportunities to push the digital frontier and think about how to create these kinds of new business models.


What are the key relevant metrics in the COVID era when developing your strategy?

Any time you are setting a strategic direction through uncertainty, our basic guidance is to spend less time worrying about the answer and more time focused on the assumptions. What would need to be true for your strategic to be successful? Which of those assumptions are ones that you can measure and monitor, which are ones that you can activate and influence? Those assumptions then form the key metrics for developing your strategy. Put another way, when setting and following a strategy through uncertainty, what you are learning is often more important than what you are earning.

You talked about the challenge of organizational misalignment. Is the real problem poor communication from the c-suite?

Certainly, poor communication can be one of the drivers of organizational misalignment. But our fieldwork suggests that there are much deeper, more foundational challenges that relate to psychological biases that inhibit good group decision making, such as confirmation bias, groupthink, the hierarchy effect, and more. Our article “Unite Your Senior Team” goes into this topic in more depth.


Can you provide examples of leaders who embrace the complexity of uncertainty and what their secret sauce may be?

In our recent Sloan Management Review article, we made the point that the practices that generally go under the name mindfulness are a proven way for leaders to have the grounding to help them manage through uncertainty. The article notes, “A mindful leader has improved ability to toggle between the discipline required to transform today’s business and the entrepreneurialism require to create tomorrow’s business. Mindfulness is a powerful, scientifically validated tool for improving self-awareness, which is a critical and under-appreciated tool for senior leaders confronting the challenges of disruptive change.” Obviously the answer is more complicated than that, but we do believe that there is something powerful about the ability to step above and outside of a problem rather than being all consumed by it.


Can you please provide a link to the articles you mentioned in the Webinar?

The following articles build on the topics discussed during the Webinar: