Reinventing through creative destruction by Steven D’Souza and Khuyen Bui
By Guest Contributor Steven D’Souza and Khuyen Bui
Authors of Not Being, by Steven D’Souza and Khuyen Bui, explain how reinvention can come through creative destruction.
“Every crisis is the protagonists’ opportunity to kill off their old selves and live anew. Their choice is to deny change and return to their former selves, or confront their innermost fears, overcome them and be rewarded. They can choose death, or they can choose to kill who they were in order to be reborn.” – John Yorke, Into the Woods
As we have seen, an intrinsic part of transformation involves the destruction of current ways of knowing, doing and being, before the new can be born. This applies as much to organizations as it does to individuals, as demonstrated by the turnover of listed companies in the major exchanges. Companies disappear with increasing regularity, either through design or because they are unable to respond to disruptions quickly enough, displaced by competitors, negatively impacted by changes in consumer demand or government regulation, or simply victims of historical events like the global coronavirus pandemic.
THE TERM “CREATIVE DESTRUCTION”
The term “creative destruction” was coined by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 to describe how organizations can dismantle established processes to make way for new, more productive methods. It derived from his observations of the manufacturing industry, prompting him to describe creative destruction as the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”
Schumpeter’s theory challenged the idea of continuity and homeostasis. Instead, it posited that economics and markets were organic and dynamic in nature, subject to constant reshaping and replacement as a result of innovation and competition. Schumpeter argued that assumptions, as well as processes, need to be destroyed to free up energy and resources for innovation. Over time, creative disruption became a term that was applied to wider examples of business disruption, especially concerning game-changing technologies enabled by the internet, which had a significant impact on retail, the media and the finance sector. While disruption destroys some businesses, new ones are simultaneously created by it.
Organizations that disrupt themselves and their industries not only sense-make and adapt to present challenges but prepare for future ones in an attempt to ensure their survival and increase their longevity. The challenge for established companies — rather than start-ups — is one of a dual transformation: the need to acknowledge and manage the decline of the existing business, while simultaneously developing an emergent business. This takes courage, looking forward, making tough decisions, and investing in areas that may not see a growth in the short term. IBM is a well-known example of an organization that has gone through the process of creative destruction on numerous occasions since its origins in the early 20th century. The company frequently reinvented itself, shifting its focus from mechanical weighing and timekeeping devices to computing to business process outsourcing to strategic consulting to the cloud, artificial intelligence and infrastructure.
THE S-CURVE TRAJECTORY
At the level of both the individual and the organization, there is an S-curve trajectory that is followed. The idea was developed by sociologist Everett Rogers in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations, to explain the rate at which new ideas and technologies are adopted, from gradual uptake to explosive growth to stagnation. More recently, Charles Handy in The Second Curve, Whitney Johnson in Disrupt Yourself and Geoffrey West in Scale have used the S-curve to illustrate the life cycles of companies, cities, organisms, identities and roles. Those with foresight can anticipate the need to change, to pursue creative destruction, before the S-curve begins to flatten out. Leave it too long, though, and the moment is missed, with decline and obsolescence inevitable for the organization, and boredom, ossification and, ultimately, irrelevance for the individual.
Anushia Reddy has held senior executive roles in the UK for 25 years. Before moving there, she had lived under apartheid in South Africa, where she was born.
I lived in a white suburb under the Group Areas Act, which was prohibited, yet made possible by my parents, who defied the boundaries with the support of my entrepreneur mother’s Jewish business partner. The need to learn in the flow of life was drummed into me by my father. It was a currency for a sustainable future within and across borders; something that could contribute to reducing unemployment, social exclusion and inequality. The dominant philosophy at home related to the dynamic interconnectedness of things and the importance of collective goals. From all of this grew my fascination with what lies behind the best and worst of human behavior and its impact.
When she was 17, Anushia began to study psychology. The sudden death of her father, who believed strongly in the benefits of education — and had his own aspirations to become a doctor closed off to him because of lack of money — motivated her, giving her a sense of purpose. Her reliance on scholarships to pay for her education further intensified her focus, and she eventually graduated with distinction. Having written directly to the human resources lead at a financial services organization that she wished to join, she then participated in an accelerated development program, which entailed frequent change in terms of what she did and who she worked with.
I was promoted quickly and within a few years found myself in senior management. By this time, I was disillusioned with psychology, which seemed to be more about generating profit and shareholder return rather than also improving the lives of people and the communities we live in. My husband, now a professor and consultant in neurocritical care, with a mindset of being in service of others, was keen to expand his contribution. With this came questions about a possible move to the UK and whether we would thrive in this environment, which was considered at the time to have surplus availability of highly skilled people.
This was a major transition for both Anushia and her husband. They had to let go of the familiar — their home country, their professional and support networks — and start life on a completely different continent.
It took Anushia four years to register as a psychologist in the UK. In the meantime, she remained on a traditional career trajectory, undertaking a range of talent, leadership and organization development roles, while also gaining experience working with different boards of directors. She also became part of a ‘future of work’ consortium, participating in projects of a strategic nature, scenario planning for tomorrow’s business practices and the implications of new ways of working.
I started to build on the early foundations of lifelong learning to mitigate skill obsolescence and to intentionally shift away from the now collapsed three-stage approach of education, work and retirement. I challenged myself to reimagine how I could respond and contribute to changing market needs, making tomorrow today by identifying the skills to build my own career resilience and long-term employability.
All of this was happening at a time when the new world of work promised opportunities for many, while also posing a threat to many who could be displaced without reskilling becoming a business imperative. I felt like I had come full circle because unemployment, social exclusion, inequality and poverty were at the heart of people’s concerns about the future, and this was the context of my roots in South Africa.
At the same time, the global workforce was becoming increasingly unwell, costing trillions of dollars in lost productivity. This was now being voiced by the World Health Organization, governments and businesses, as well as across disciplines way beyond psychology.
Anushia believes that the future of work is about the future of human beings. She realized that she could help create a sustainable future through a holistic approach to well-being. This meant dedication to learning about a new field, spending evenings and weekends studying. Anushia modeled the dual transformation of organizations, investing more time in what she saw as her future career.
I started to plot my path in a deliberate way, exploring what this might look like in five years if I committed fully rather than tinkered around the edges. I set in motion a number of time-bound goals, sharing them with colleagues so that they would hold me accountable. I continued doing talent strategy and executive development work, and this portfolio became my way of funding rapid, in-depth research into well-being and resilience across multiple disciplines. As a result, I was able to access a vast range of the less-accessible journals and books, as well as invest in programs in neuroscience, cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and resilience. I could also engage with and learn from experts in well-being and resilience around the world.
Soon her immersion in the topic bore fruit, with Anushia invited to advise one of her clients on their approach to resilience. This propelled her to converge the broad work she had done and make decisions on an approach that had the possibility not only to build resilience but to sustain well-being and strengthen the performance of individuals, teams and organizations as a whole. Before long, Anushia was designing, developing and delivering a range of solutions.
As I delivered workshops to different audiences, I noticed the difference it was making to people and how rewarding I was finding every experience. There continues to be tremendous learning and insight. The feedback from others — including leveraging my husband’s medical neuroscience skills — has enabled me to stay agile and confirm that I will always be a work in progress as I build this new portfolio and anticipate what’s next.
Constant change is a given. But, remaining conscious of creative destruction allows us to pay attention to what is moribund and seek out opportunities for reinvention and renewal. While we may not be able to predict the future, we can do what we can to prepare ourselves to meet it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
STEVEN D’SOUZA is an executive educator, coach, and keynote speaker. He has authored or co-authored five books: Made in Britain, Brilliant Networking, Not Knowing, Not Doing and Not Being. Steven has been recognized by Thinkers50 on its RADAR list and was included in HR Magazine’s ‘Most Influential’ list. His work has been featured in national and international media, including Harvard Business Review, the BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, and The Sunday Times.
KHUYEN BUI is an author, speaker and sought-after facilitator who guides individuals and organizations to uncover the goodness that is already here. Graduated cum laude from Tufts University, where he studied Computer Science and Philosophy, he thrives on bringing analytical rigor into his inquiries of human messiness. Khuyen enjoys writing and storytelling and has won several awards, notably the Peter Drucker Challenge Essay Award and The Moth Boston StorySLAM Award. He can be contacted at www.khuyenbui.com.
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