How Big Companies Become Disruptors (Part 2)

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The world of innovation and consumer design know that disruption is just a part of the game. Though common lore tells us that disruption comes from the sides and from the small, nimble start-ups tipping over the corporate behemoths, that’s not the whole story. The big guys are learning how to disrupt and they are getting better and better at it every year.

At the 2018 Design Thinking conference in Austin, Anthony Norris of FedEx and Dan Kraemer of IA Collaborative shared about the incredibly innovative approach the shipper used to disrupt itself and the industry. See the first blog post about that here. The first key leverage point the pair shared about was ‘work like a digital-only company.’ FedEx is a physical business, as we all know: planes, boxes, shipping containers, and a lot of mechanical movements. Coming up a digital-only solution can be a real brain twister for an organization like FedEx with such a physical install base.

Norris and Kraemer say that the second key condition is ‘design for speed.’ In the case of FedEx, the team realized that there were so many screens – literally computer or scanner screens – involved in the process of moving a package from location A to location B. In the spirit of speed, simply asking ‘how do we reduce the number of screens required?’ brought forward a whole new set of thinking.

What supported that thinking was designing and then aligning to a set of guidance for how to address the most common problems that people found in disrupting the FedEx system. As many people know, engagement really works when designing for the customer experience. Such a guidance pillar helped generate the design question of “how could we use animation to make filling out a form fun?”  That’s a great example of what shifts the way people look when they go about solving a problem.

Norris shared that incorporating design thinking into the work of FedEx was key to addressing the threats they were facing in the competitive market. FedEx was top-class at doing its business, but it really took the company to focus be able to work at the speed of their competitor start-ups and then outpace those customers. That kind of challenge truly invigorated the organization to be at the source of winning in this arena.

As we all know, though, competition never ends. They keep coming, and Amazon, Uber, and Google are just a few of the start-up companies working on the fringes to break into the same-day delivery market in a meaningful way. FedEx knows that those threats are real. Norris says that combatting this requires prototyping for scale, for specific situations, and for battling the next competitor that comes along (remembering that those competitors rarely announce their attack).

A key learning: determining the hardest things that new entries face in coming into market and starting up is critical. Knowing that gives a company an ability to solve for those issues and, thereby, thwarting the work these start-ups take. Perhaps the biggest disruption is to disrupt the traditional disruptors.

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