Listening to the radio today and I get a sense a real sense of implosion. It seems that Brexit has created a kind of domino effect bringing the certainties of just a month or so ago crashing down around our ears. The main political parties are disintegrating day by day and it seems that chaos is the new normal.
Whether you were for or against exit from the EU, few people can have predicted the result and even fewer the impact it has had on our political system. As the stock markets yoyo and the pound plummets the business world collectively holds it breath. If there is a better example of unanticipated disruption then I would love to know what it is.
The irony of all this is that many in the business world have been banging on about 'disruption' for the last couple of years. The arrival and impact of companies like AirBnB and Uber has put many companies on high alert, concerned that their industry could be next in-line for the kind of transformation that digital technology has enabled. Many of the organisations I work with have, quite rightly, been investing time and money on understanding the opportunities presented by digital in order not just to prepare for disruption, but to be at the forefront of it. Few could have seen this coming however.
What the last month has shown us is that you cannot make any assumptions about how and where disruption will occur. There is no question that the digital environment means that it is more likely but there is also danger that companies will focus to narrowly on the threats and opportunities presented by digital and ignore everything else. Tremors (or in this case earthquakes!) in the geopolitical arena have been occurring for centuries, impacting trade, employment and manufacturing. With the exception of the odd financial crisis, the last 50 years have been relatively quiet. Lulling us perhaps into a false sense of security. Successful businesses learnt how to ride out the financial storms and politically, at least in the UK, the differences between successive governments have been minimal so the impact of political change has been slight.
The situation we find ourselves in now is unprecedented in that we have no idea what is going to happen next. Every day brings fresh challenges. We don't know who we are going to be able to hire, or whether we are even going to be able to hang on to the ones we have already employed. We have no idea how trade with companies inside and outside the EU is going to be affected. We don't know which regulations will govern what we do and right now, we don't even know who is going to lead us through it all!
My point is simple. Disruption can come from any direction. That might sound obvious but over the last few years we have come to see it as a digital thing. The danger therefore is that we focus too narrowly when trying to prepare organisations for what is to come. The focus should be on ensuring that companies are agile enough to adapt to whatever comes over the horizon - digital or otherwise. This might sound impossible. After all how can you prepare for something if you don't know what it is?
The key is agility and although digital technology might not be the cause of the disruption it almost always, will be part of the solution. There is no question that the digital revolution has opened up new horizons but what it has also done is given us a whole range of tools and techniques, plus different ways of thinking, that enable us to adapt faster. Digital tools mean that change can happen in hours, not weeks or months but to be effective they require digital behaviour. Agility is about more than simply rolling out a new set of tools - it has to start with changing the way people think and the processes around what they do.
How disruptive the decoupling from Europe will be (if indeed it ever happens) is hard to tell. The business world is both fragile and amazingly resilient. There is no doubt that change presents both threat and opportunity and the changes of a business coming through it unchanged are slim. It is a reminder to us all that no one can afford to be complacent and that every business needs to be able to adapt quickly if it is going to survive in this increasingly unpredictable world.