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Shawn Kanungo: Disruption is an Opportunity to Reimagine the Future

Shawn Kanungo: Disruption is an Opportunity to Reimagine the Future

Let me describe to you my least favourite Black Mirror episode. The global economy is at a standstill. People are suffering. My family is Lysol-ing all of our groceries. My son’s first birthday party is on Zoom. My wife is my barber.

0% on Rotten Tomatoes.

To me, COVID-19 has been eerily similar to how organizations get disrupted. We all see it coming, evaluate it from afar, but then, ultimately, ignore it until it’s at our doorsteps.

As the weeks have gone by, I have spent a lot of time just listening. Jumping on private calls with economists, scientists, government leaders, academia, physicians, business leaders, grocery store workers, Uber drivers, and those on the front lines. I wanted to get a sense of what was happening — given that the majority of my day is listening to the perspectives of my three-year-old daughter (she’s been explaining to me why she absolutely needs to wear her Elsa dress every single day).

The theme that unites everyone is the fact that no one has any idea on what’s going to happen. There is no playbook, there is no expert, and there is no white knight.

But I believe that this disruption is an opportunity.

This is an opportunity for us to step back. Reimagine industries. Reimagine work. Reimagine careers.

When this is all over, most things probably won’t change much. But, maybe they should.

Over the years, when it comes to innovation, the questions I receive the most are: How do I convince people to change? How do I convince my leaders and teammates to move forward?

Well, congratulations, COVID-19 just did the work for you.

This could be the lightning rod for new opportunities. A tipping point that we needed for a work revolution.

So, how do we move forward? Here’s some suggestions:

Embrace Digital Transformation

Although everyone is hurting, there are a few organizations that were prepared for disruption. They built teams that were built for continuous change — flexible, nimble, cloud-first, collaborative, and automated. The majority of organizations were not set up for this new world. Well, now this is their wake-up call.

Reframe Problems

Adversity breeds innovation. There is a fallacy that innovation is about technology or spending a ton of resources on research and development. It is not. It is simply about creating value in new ways. During this crisis, most organizations will be tightening their belts on expenses and big projects. Perfect. That means we can now focus on solving problems by asking different questions.

Continuously Experiment

The idea of experimentation was always scary for both leaders and employees alike. Leaders were fearful of taking a risk that would impact the bottom line. Employees were fearful that their careers would be at risk. But, this pandemic is a tsunami that is melting away bureaucracy, hierarchy, old ideas, and practices. There are organizations trying radically new business models, processes, and brand experiences. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas — the chances are no one will remember anyways.

Even though we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic, we can still be thinking and preparing for the future — even when we’re at home.

Nelson Mandela was once asked, how did you survive 27 years of isolation and hard labour in prison?

He said, “I wasn’t surviving. I was preparing.”

Shawn Kanungo is a disruption strategist who works at the intersection of creativity, business, and technology, woho has been recognized nationally and globally for his work in the innovation space.

As a partner at Queen & Rook Capital, Kanungo has worked hand-to-hand with hundreds of organizations on their journey to digital transformation.