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Sunday Soundbite

How to kill disruption

Chris Field
Chris Field

Shoot me and bury me in an unmarked grave far away from civilisation; do retail boards really need a chief disruption officer (CDO) as IDG recently suggested?

Can we please use all our powers of irony and humour to strangle this idea at birth before it grows into a six-headed monster that tramples everything in its path?

First of all, it’s the CEO’s job to disrupt the business, and make the changes it needs to meet the new customer-first world. And below him or her, it surely makes sense to fix what’s wrong with current roles and structures, and plan future recruitment better, rather than simply create what feels like a random job description.

I appreciate there are retailers who will feel they can’t make these changes in the conventional way, and therefore need to do something under the wire. But this really isn’t the best, most honest way to do this, and is likely to end badly unless it’s properly planned, and everyone is fully informed and on board, so to speak.

And frankly, can I really take any organisation that has a CDO seriously? The idea that the next Uber, Airbnb or Whole Foods will emerge from this is nonsense.

Also, how are existing staff meant to react if an external trickster is hired to shake things up when the organisation probably has an abundance of people happy to knock the house of cards down, given half a chance.

In an age when the respect we have for each other has fallen to a new low, and the law has to replace common decency with rules for how we treat each other, surely retailers can talk amongst themselves and remove the barriers between them? Just because we’re getting used to the idea of failing fast, there’s no reason to encourage it.

And if this wasn’t bad enough, there is surely no better way to kill innovation than to institutionalise it. What will happen is this: the CDO will turn out to be a charmer, who may well get lots of people on their side. But together they will build an echo chamber that bears little relation to what is actually happening inside the business. Then, when the time comes to act, failure must surely be the first and most immediate outcome.

Fortunately, while this absurd and self-deluded idea runs its course, true innovation will continue to creep in through the cracks as it always has done. It just takes a normal person to spot and harness it. He or she is probably standing right next to you – you sure as hell don’t need a CDO.

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