In my book The Hedgehog and the Beetle I point to the many industries that had looked at potential disruption and decided “it won’t happen to us” – telephone utilities, stockbrokers, record companies, bookstores, travel agencies and retailers. To their surprise it happened to them, and for many well established, highly successful companies this meant bankruptcy.
The good news for civil society organisations (CSOs) is: they will hardly go bankrupt. The bad news is: if they ignore disruption they may die a very slow death, gradually fading away. When raising this threat with colleagues from other CSOs I usually come across two types of reaction. One reaction accepts my arguments and either tells me what their organisation is doing about disruption or asks me what they should do. The other reaction follows the “it won’t happen to us” argument and explains that their organisation has been successful for such a long time and that they don’t see a reason why this should change.
I sincerely hope that history will prove the second line of argument right. But I am not so sure. There are too many indicators out there which point towards a transformative change of our sector, a change which cannot be mastered with traditional approaches and a “business as usual” mindset. In my book I specifically identify three major disruptors:
– Political disruption, which has become much more dramatic and widespread recently with governments around the world from Uganda to Cambodia, from Russia to India, and from Finland to the USA restricting CSOs’ space for action and obstructing their funding sources.
– Technological disruption, specifically disintermediation through the Internet affects both service delivery and campaigning by CSOs. In one of my earlier posts, Can Disintermediation Happen? I wrote about the likeliness of disruption coming from this angle.
– Planetary disruption, which, due to humans over-exploiting the resources of the earth and destroying the basis for a decent and peaceful existence for future generations, means that CSOs will find it harder, if not impossible, to achieve their missions.
From where I sit all three of these disruptions have been taking shape with increasing speed and impact. However, nobody can be certain whether disruption will happen to our sector or not, and, for the time being, we don’t have to resolve the question whether “it will happen to us” or not: we will find out eventually. The more important question is: what do we do in a situation where we cannot be sure whether disruption will affect us?
I suggest that we answer this question using one of the principles of wise management: if you can see a major risk which might affect your organisation you try to explore and manage that risk. And this principle should unite the ones who see disruption coming and those who doubt that it will come: neither can be sure whether disruption will occur or whether it will spare our sector. Therefore it makes sense for both camps to take appropriate precautions, putting their organisations in a position where they can navigate the threats and exploit the opportunities that disruption entails.
Today, everybody who works in our sector should think about emerging disruption and how we can benefit rather than suffer from it. Here at the International Civil Society Centre we prepare for disruption at three levels:
– We try to find ways to spot disruption early so that we have time to prepare for navigating it;
– We aim to embrace disruption, to see it as an opportunity rather than a threat, because we believe that a positive mindset will help us to better handle disruption and
– We develop practical concepts for managing disruption once it strikes. For instance: In September we will conduct an innovation lab with the aim of developing strategies and tools together with changemakers from civil society organisations around the world. If you are interested in participating you can learn more and register here.
What is your perspective on disruption and what do you think we should do about it?