How Communication Has Changed During the Ultimate Disruption
We often hear about new developments in business being “disruptive.” It’s typically meant as a positive thing—the new way of doing things is so obviously superior that it displaces the existing way.
Wikipedia describes disruptive innovation as:
“In business theory, a disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market-leading firms, products, and alliances. The term was defined and first analyzed by the American scholar Clayton M. Christensen and his collaborators beginning in 1995, and has been called the most influential business idea of the early 21st century.
Not all innovations are disruptive, even if they are revolutionary. For example, the first automobiles in the late 19th century were not a disruptive innovation, because early automobiles were expensive luxury items that did not disrupt the market for horse-drawn vehicles. The market for transportation essentially remained intact until the debut of the lower-priced Ford Model T in 1908. The mass-produced automobile was a disruptive innovation, because it changed the transportation market, whereas the first thirty years of automobiles did not.”
It is clear that a disruptive innovation is considered to be better than what came before. Often, the innovation is adopted and becomes commercially successful. There are several examples of truly disruptive innovations—personal computers and the Internet have transformed the way that we communicate information, and the rise of smartphones has moved that from the office to the sofa. Streaming video services have completely replaced video rental services, LED lighting has largely replaced other forms of lighting, and digital photography has all but completely replaced developed film. And there are many other examples.
The Knowledge of “Need”
One thing that is common about these changes is that they involved vision. Someone had an idea that they realized would transform how we go about our daily business as a society and turn it into a need. It’s easy to see how some items become a need. LED lighting, for example, has the benefits of the instant control of incandescent lighting while significantly reducing the power used. Digital photography most certainly started as a luxury but is now necessary. (Scanning a QR code using an exposed film and a scanner is more than a little cumbersome!)
Recently, we have all been exposed to a different kind of disruption. One that was not born of innovation or vision but has had a massive impact on how we operate as a society—COVID-19. The impacts of this disruption are many and varied, and we’re nowhere near having the benefit of hindsight to be able to assess how far reaching those impacts are. I’d like to focus on one particular area that COVID-19 has impacted, which is communication.
Double Mute and Conference Call Bingo
There are many phrases that have become part of our common vernacular recently. Double muting (where your headset and software are both set to mute independently) is something that most of us are now much more familiar with. Conference call bingo isn’t a new thing, but a lot more of us are aware of its existence because of the fact that we’ve been doing a lot more work remotely. Remote collaboration tools have all become much more of a part of our day than they ever were previously—even for someone like me who works remotely full time. This is reflected in the share price of communication companies—Slack and Zoom have both seen solid rises in their share prices this year.
It is, however, the human changes that I want to focus on in this blog post, and I’ll speak to the effects that I have felt from our new communication practices.
One of the biggest things I have heard people are feeling is the lack of certainty about what we are doing in both our work and personal lives. As an example, getting kids back to school has been an interesting experience for many, with big changes to how drop-off and pick-up works and even whether some schools would be in-person or virtual.
This uncertainty is also reflected in our work lives. Businesses have been cautious about spending because they don’t know what the future holds. Some industries, such as recreation and travel, have felt the impact massively. These effects ripple up the value chain such that every business feels the impact and change happens. They are not necessarily always negative effects. Amazon, for example, has greatly benefitted from the changes, as people order more online and go to physical shops less.
So clearly, for Amazon, the uncertainty created opportunity. I would say that the same is true of the communication that happens between us, particularly in the working world. From a personal perspective, I’ve seen that reflected in my family—I feel like the relationship that I have with my immediate family is a lot stronger because of the time we have spent together. Those that know me will know I’m always up for a crazy project and being able to do those projects with my family has been a big positive that has come from the changes that have occurred.
In my work life, I feel like the communication style has changed, too. People are spending more of their communication time talking about how they are and connecting as human beings. I would say this has a positive impact on productivity and engagement overall. Although we’re spending a bit more of our time during work talking about things that have nothing to do with work, that is definitely compensated for by the feelings of calm and security making people more productive in the times they are not on a call.
Looking at these changes, it can go one of two ways. We can either look back at the way we communicated before and lament the loss of our personal connection, or we can look forward at the new reality and embrace the parts that make it positive and build on them.
At SentryOne, our HR leader, Jenn Miller, has talked about the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle and the stages that people go through. It is actually very interesting stuff because it does ring true—while in the midst of the stages of the cycle, it feels like your emotions are all over the place. Upon reflection, however, it is much easier to look back and associate how you felt at a particular time with where you were in the cycle.
As managers, it is important that we understand where our employees are in the cycle and adjust our communication style to suit their needs at the time. Someone who is in the anger stage certainly doesn’t need all the positives pointed out to them—they need to vent, and they want sympathy. Someone who is in the depression stage will need encouragement and this is where it can be helpful to point out the positives. It’s not a straight line—each individual’s journey will be different but reflecting on our own experiences and tailoring our communication style can really help.
Personally, I feel like I have reached the acceptance phase of the cycle, so I am actively trying to find ways in which I can improve communication with the people I work with. There are a variety of ways that our communication can be improved to help people get to a place of stability and calm such that they can be the most happy and productive possible. Sometimes that comes down to something as simple as a well-timed (appropriate) joke to break the ice at a tense meeting. It might mean reaching out to a colleague to remind them how much they are appreciated. Often, it comes down to the simplest of things such as saying thank you for work that has been done—especially if it was something that was outside of the person’s typical role.
Perhaps there is something you can do to make one of your colleagues happier today?
Matt is Director of Platform Delivery at SentryOne, facilitating development activities across our product portfolio. Having spent the first part of his career working in payment and loyalty systems, working with several high volume databases, Matt developed a passion for tooling around database systems. He took some time to develop the tools that eventually became DBA xPress when they were acquired by Pragmatic Works. After working with Pragmatic Works to build out their database tooling, Matt joined SentryOne where he is excited to have the opportunity to take that tooling to the next level.