The change in the retail landscape is already hitting property owners and builders of shopping centres, which until recently were a sure earner for anyone who could pour concrete, but they are not the only sector feeling the after-shock of retail digital disruption, it’s affecting logistics firms, and those in other sectors similarly.

Learn from the experience of the retail sector

The challenge of what to do with large retail spaces previously occupied by department stores and out-of-town shopping malls, demand for which will be drastically reduced, is going to tax the innovative capabilities of developers and property companies around the world. While many developers rely on the high rents their properties have traditionally commanded to balance their books, I’ve already seen state-of-the-art shopping malls built in the post-communist boom in Central Europe, moth-balled while their owners figure out what to do with them.

However, it would be a mistake to believe cross-sector impact of disruption is confined to the retail sector. I’ve written on the subject recently and find it is cropping up with increasing frequency in conversations with business leaders I meet in all sectors.

The disrupters to fear are those you don’t see coming

One truth about disruption is it’s rarely the competitors you are familiar with who make the waves. Start-ups are, of course a common disrupter and they arrive literally out of nowhere, but often the real threat comes from businesses in adjacent sectors. Unlike start-ups they may have some experience of the market and they have scale and structure, which maybe gives them a little more impetus. However because they aren’t the competitors we have traditionally faced off with, they sneak up, unobserved on unsuspecting organisations. You simply don’t see them coming if you are focussed on your own sector.

How disruption arrives

Whatever we may believe, no sector is an island and every business is vulnerable to disruption from neighbours.

Take the automotive sector for instance. We’ve already seen electric vehicles threaten car servicers, lubricant makers, haulage firms and of course the petro-chemical producers and distributors. It’s spawned new businesses too.

Charging-point networks for example. As we have seen recently, petrol forecourt operators like BP, who would otherwise be out of business a few years from now are staking their claim. In BP’s case, by acquiring Chargemaster, the UK’s most extensive network and an early mover in this new sector. This is business transformation. However, even a giant like BP had to move quickly while Chargemaster was affordable to avoid the hierarchy being reversed. How many start-ups have we already seen acquire an established traditional competitor many times their size? Often for a token payment?

Meanwhile, autonomous vehicles will be a source of disruption among taxi services, haulage, insurance, rail operators, public transport and, because they’ll not be running into each other at anything like the frequency we are used to, insurance companies and body repair shops.

So what can you do to ensure disruption doesn’t catch you napping?

Firstly you need to re-orientate yourself. Start by getting a fix on where you fit into the new business landscape. You may think you have this nailed, but, believe me, it’s worth re-visiting. I’ve often found that businesses lose sight of this and digital disruption is changing the composition of every sector. Next, you need to work up a few scenarios for the way the market may develop and see what opportunities this presents for you.

Re-aquaint yourself with your sector

Gather information from the Internet. There are tools that SEO consultants use to manage back-links and identify valuable search terms that you can use to identify the businesses that are moving and shaking in your sector.

Chase down editorial content that talks about innovation and visit trade shows. I don’t expect any one person in your organisation could take this on alone. You need to make it part of your culture, develop an inquisitive habit and get your executive team to each play their part in this.

Create an executive intelligence team who plan trips to trade shows and conferences and meet regularly to pool their discoveries. You’ll probably need to employ someone to combine these insights and distil them into a reference you can work with, but it’s a role that can be combined with the on-line research you’ll also need to do.

Make a plan

Once you know where you stand and where you want to be, start the process of identifying the steps you need to take to get there. This amounts to a vision and mission exercise.

I find most organisation’s vision and mission statements are pretty pathetic anyway and because they are a pre-requisite to the development of your brand model I get involved in re-writing these all the time. The vision and mission statements of most businesses were written in the context of the pre-digital world, so it’s probably about time you revisited yours anyway.

This usually starts with a workshop process, which apart from delivering a vision and mission that’s fit for the digital age, will be a priceless opportunity to bring your executive team together behind a common objective – and that’s a vital first step in the development of your brand and the transformation of your organisation.

This isn’t a one-time exercise. Every organisation needs to extend its peripheral vision and develop a culture of greater awareness. Creating a habit that involves continually gathering and sharing insights and information is essential to survival in the fast-moving digital marketplace.


Once you are familiar with your market and your position in it, you’ll be ready to start developing the solutions that will drive your future success. In the digital age you are only as good as your NEXT big idea, so you’ll need a continuous stream of new products, services, structures and processes to keep you in the game. The sooner you start this process the sooner you’ll be able to compete.

Re-assign your resources

Identify low-hanging fruit. New products, services and solutions that you could deliver by utilising at least some of the resources you already have. You may need to introduce some skills to supplement those you already have, but you can achieve this short-term by partnering with other organisations that have them at their core. This way you be more likely to quickly achieve the standards you’ll need to compete. This is the era of flexibility and that’s achieved through partnerships like this, but if you are determined to be self-sufficient you can learn the ropes from these external specialists and build your own resource later when you have established demand. You may even acquire your initial partner.

Start today to get ahead of disruption

Above all, don’t be complacent. Every organisation has to become digital just to stay in the game. Digital businesses are faster, more in-touch and far more efficient than traditional ones and once a digital disrupter arrives in your sector it will take them no time at all to take control. You need to start now to avoid excessive cost and discomfort. If you don’t you may be one of the one-in-three businesses that disappear within the next three years, because they failed to make the changes necessary to defend against disruption.

You can learn more about the process of Brand-Led Business Transformation from my new lecture series. Visit to find out how to become the agent of change in your organisation.

Phil Darby
November 13, 2018

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