Navigating the Storm of Technological Disruption
February 27, 2024

In a recent engagement on LinkedIn, I stumbled upon a post discussing the pivotal speech delivered by the then CEO of Nokia. The insights shared raised concerns about the challenges companies face when grappling with technologically led change. The post, from Emmanuel Ngomane* [which can be found on the link below], prompted a deeper reflection on the intricate issues surrounding industry disruption.

Navigating through technologically-led industry disruption is undeniably complex, a truth that Nokia, among many others, learned the hard way. The CEO’s statement, as highlighted in the post, revealed a critical flaw – a failure to comprehend the evolving landscape. While change is inherent, the inability to acknowledge and adapt to it becomes a company’s Achilles’ heel.

The assertion that Nokia did nothing wrong is debunked by the stark reality—sadly, they did everything wrong. The biggest problem, highlighted in the CEOs statement, was that they did not try to understand the unfolding dynamics. Nokia’s experience, far from unique, finds parallels throughout history, from the first Industrial Revolution to the present. Companies that resist the need to adapt often find themselves in the corporate graveyard.

What sets Nokia apart is not just the failure to learn from the past but the surprise it expressed at becoming a casualty of technological disruption. Company inertia, competency traps, and the possible commitment to sustaining their current business model compounded their problems. Simply put, doing more of the same during industry upheaval is a recipe for failure.

I see two scenarios when facing technologically-led industry disruption. 

Scenario 1, akin to Nokia’s approach, involves doing nothing until it’s too late. While the firm may aim to sustain its current business model, empirical evidence shows this path leads to ultimate failure. 

Scenario 2, on the other hand, entails adapting and adjusting. The outcome can vary – failure, survival, or even thriving. The key is taking proactive steps instead of succumbing to the allure of maintaining the status quo.

Leadership conviction and timely decision-making are paramount during periods of industry disruption. Failure to exhibit these qualities can sow the seeds of a firm’s destruction. This death blow may not be immediate, and the firm may be able to sustain a level of existence for a period of time, but in the end the Corporate Reaper will come for its harvest.

The same dynamic is playing out in the automotive industry and, unfortunately, the same will happen to many of the current leading brands and one can foresee that many of the firm’s leadership will be making similar speeches to that of the one made by the then CEO of Nokia. 

The dynamics of creative destruction are inescapable. While disruption poses a threat, it also presents an opportunity for those who are willing to adapt and innovate.

In conclusion, we are entering an era of unparalleled disruption across all industries. I urge leaders not to find themselves in the unenviable position of delivering a speech akin to Nokia’s. The key lies in embracing change, seeking innovative solutions, and reaching out for guidance and collaboration.

Author: Dr Nathan E. Browne

Director – Africa & Middle East, SaturnFive