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Disruption can come from anywhere, at any time, in any form, and you often won’t have a clue what it’s going to look like. But you CAN prepare for it and you can respond to it in a way that will create opportunity for your business. That doesn’t mean having some dusty old crisis comms plan in the bottom of someone’s filing cabinet. It means doing the real work every day to set yourself up for tough times.

What is disruption?

Industry disruption is often thought of as some sort of seismic event but it’s often not so blatant. There are five key signs that disruption is happening:

•             Changes in customer behaviour

•             Shifting regulation

•             New methods of distribution

•             Core technologies of production

•             New kinds of competition

Keys to dealing with disruption

We used to plan for crises by literally building a plan. A folio of scenarios and what-ifs and who-to-calls that got created and then completely forgotten.

That does not work. You get through disruption by preparing for it every single day. Here are the keys:


If you can’t honestly define your business values, you’re going to be in trouble when disruption comes along because values are the deeply held principles that will guide your decisions.

You have to live your values every single day, for real, because being true to your values builds capital in your teams, in your supplier relationships, in your customers – and you need all of them when things go pear shaped.


What’s the difference between values and culture?

Values are the underpinning principles. Culture is formed by people, so it’s subject to change. Culture can be shaped by location, work practices and many other things.

Ultimately, though, culture develops on the back of strong, clearly defined company values.


We know that disruption fuels innovation. It also fuels sleepless nights, stress, and sometimes business collapse.

It can be hard to stay the course, but if you come into a disruptive period recognising that there is opportunity for your business, that’s a powerful place to start.

The companies that did best in Covid got out in front of the disruption and changed the way they operated, quickly and boldly.

This ties back to values and culture, and it’s a bit about appetite for risk, too. There’s not a 100% right answer but I encourage you to think about whether you personally have that tendency to be a glass half full or glass half empty view. If you’re a glass half empty person by nature, that’s okay – but make sure you hire someone who can give you the glass half full perspective you need too.

Valuing the struggle

Business innovation is hard work, and not everything is successful, but you have to throw yourself into it.

It feels unpleasant. Your instincts will say ‘get out of here, this is wrong’ – and that’s when you know you’re growing. You’re in the discomfort zone, and you need to spend some time there if you are going to stay ahead of disruption, or if you find yourself in a period of disruption and you need to make a change.

Meeting people where they are at

Often in business we hear that people are the most valuable asset, and that is entirely true.

Change that is hard for you is going to be hard for your people, too. Make sure you bring them with you, treat them with empathy.

And ultimately understand that a change in direction may not suit all of them.

You need to be recruiting All. The. Time, even if your team is small.

The upshot

You cannot PLAN for disruption but you can PREPARE for disruption – every day, in everything you do.

Kendi Burness Cowan