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What Does or Will Disrupt Your Business?


One of the principles of statistics is to throw out the unexpected high and low data, to concentrate on the core, repeatable inputs. We are looking for trends, not outliers. Every day, though, I see businesses unable to keep a steady beat to their operation due to some outlier that disrupts them.

This last month in Oregon, we’ve seen unusually high temperatures and dry weather. A Starbucks in Washington state had to post a sign saying the ice machine was not working. So forget those cold, iced and frothy drinks that could cool you off. A restaurant had its air conditioning go out and could only get it repaired to work on one of two floors. Half the income for a couple of nights. A mostly outdoor garden shop in town reduced its hours from a normal 9 hours to just 3, closing at noon to avoid the heat. They still had to have staff in the other hours to water the plants and shrubs or risk losing their inventory as well as their sales. Hot weather makes it dangerous for the forests with the risk of fires. Fires cause further unrest for businesses that have to close in the vicinity of the fires. People don’t go to work while they evacuate their homes. The hot weather caused some power outages due to the demand on the power grid. Restaurants and businesses could not stay open, could not register sales through their electronic cash registers that did not work.

In just a few days, the USA is going crazy as the sun gets blotted out in a trial run for the end of the world when the sun goes dark from lack of fuel. (Well, that’s really only about 4 billion years away, and it will get bigger and red, swallow the earth before it collapses onto itself and becomes a white dwarf.) Next week, the moon will disrupt the suns rays to the earth, causing darkness over much of the USA. People and business are concerned with the traffic jams as people travel to be in the main path of the eclipse. Emergency personnel are preparing for more accidents and helicopter life flights. Trucking fleets and states are developing plans for delays in delivering goods. I guess FedEx/UPS/Amazon PRIM will either pay some delivery guarantee fees, or rely on this being an Act of God.

Disruption of business is a day-to-day issue that needs to be dealt with. Do you have plans in place in case your cash register is not working? My barber, the manager of the establishment, had to excuse herself to get the computer system running again with the help of a phone call to contract IT support. It took about 10 minutes. What do you do if the only chef you have does not show up for work? And, all the recipes are in the chef’s head, with nothing written down. What do you do if the UPS pickup is late? Do you have someone work overtime and drive the package to the UPS store? Or pay the penalty for the delivery being late and possibly lose an important contract?

Contingency planning is essential for a business—large, small, or micro.

There’s one more thing to disruption, though. For the small start-up, it’s the key to success. For the established industry participants, it’s a risk for failure and loss of customers and revenue. This is the business idea and competitor that refuses to fly in formation and cuts across the path, creating a new way to succeed. It’s online streaming and binge watching of video content. (Note that I don’t call it TV.) It’s e-commerce that is replacing brick-and-mortar locations. It’s mobile phones replacing phones in the home/business hard-wired to the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS). It’s online content and downloadable documents replacing newspapers and magazines. It’s technology finding a better, cheaper, less costly, more engaging way of satisfying and delighting people, especially your customers.

Based on yesterday’s experiences with disruption, make contingency plans today, so that tomorrow, when a disruption hits, you will be prepared to handle it effectively, without missing a beat in your operations. And dream about the day after, when you will need a whole new way of doing business as some technology enables the entire industry to be disrupted and replaced.