When companies adopt digital, they do old things in new ways. When companies internalize digital — make it part of their mindset — they find entirely new things to do and new ways to do them. They become digital disruptors, and they swiftly go on to take over the markets they set their sights on.
The best proof I have of the power of mindset to put a company ahead during an era of transition has nothing to do with digital or even business. The evidence comes from the Comanche Indians, who dominated the American Southwest through the 1700s and most of the 1800s because of a spectacular new technology they not only adopted, but internalized: the horse. As perfectly described by S.C. Gwynne in his bestselling book, Empire of the Summer Moon, dozens of tribes across the Great Plains had horses. But most of these tribes saw the horse as a new way to do an old thing: to get from point A to point B. Just faster and with more things in tow.
Comanches, on the other hand, internalized the possibilities of the horse, aligning their entire “business” around them. That mindset opened them to new possibilities that others missed. They became skilled breeders, they rethought their cultural practices and values, and they tested the limits of horses to see just how far this enabling technology could take them. For most of the 1800s, Texas Rangers and US Army majors struggled in vain to subdue the Comanches.
When you isolate what made Comanches great, it was not the horse. It was the way they saw the horse, the way they internalized its possibilities, and the way they found entirely new things to do with it. Today’s companies — large or small — will not thrive on the basis of how they adopt technologies like mobile or social. Instead, they will thrive only in proportion to how readily they adopt a disruptor’s mindset, seeing mobile apps, digital customer relationships, big data, and other digital disruptions in a new and powerful light. It will require rethinking how they use technology — taking advantage of free digital tools whenever possible to gain speed, exploiting digital platforms built by potential rivals for customer attention as Amazon and Google do, and rethinking how customers will want to have their needs met, given that the customer has been internalizing technology, too.
It starts with a mindset that leads to the actions that become the disruption.