[Author’s note: the title is both a pun about the acquisition and a bit of homage to Adam West, forever my favorite Batman, after his recent passing]
I had initially set out to blog about the intended acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, which we discussed in some detail here in a “First Take”. But over the last week, there have been several items focused on culture amid disruption that are interesting, potentially troubling, and if nothing else, reminders that technology is but a piece of the equation with respect to being disruptive.
In a talk I gave at our Technology Growth and Innovation (TGI) conference in Huntington Beach, CA this past week, I discussed the Elements of Disruption, essentially four levers that disruptors can pull to achieve their disruption. (I’ve also written about these before in this blog). These are:
Internally, we had a lot of discussion about naming these, and the fourth element – society – was initially called “culture”. While we collaboratively decided that “society” would be the best name for this element (there are societal elements that extend beyond culture), “culture” is absolutely a critical component within it.
Amazon’s intended acquisition of Whole Foods has been discussed as having one potentially significant impediment: aligning the cultures of Whole Foods and Amazon, and ensuring that the value of the Whole Foods culture isn’t lost amid Amazon’s desire for breadth, speed, and efficiency. Moreover, Whole Foods’ customers represent a demanding culture/set of imperatives (organic food, health, etc.), and you can bet they’re concerned about the same potential loss of values. While Amazon has succeeded in melding very different culture into its operations previously with Zappos, combined outcomes were seemingly less diametrically opposed than are Amazon’s and Whole Foods’ (the issue was more in terms of internal structure – or lack thereof – at Zappos). Personally, I think Amazon will succeed here, and Whole Foods shoppers need not worry about a “student body left” move to discounted, less healthy foods and experiences.
This week also had major activities at Uber, one of the most celebrated of the major disruptors. National and local regulations have not been able to stop Uber, nor have lawsuits and challenges from its (non-employee) drivers, but another thing has: an apparent unbridled culture of harassment that led to a variety of activities, which themselves have resulted in the CEO’s departure. Numerous articles have voiced concerns of immature, immoral, and other negative behaviors within the Silicon Valley startup world, using Uber as the figurehead given its stature. Amid news of a particular Silicon Valley VC that allegedly harassed female leaders of companies seeking funding, bad cultural behavior in the tech community must be reigned in and hopefully eliminated before it becomes synonymous with being (or trying to be) a disruptor.
A last example of cultural impact relative to a disruptor in my view is Apple’s announcement of its HomePod. Apple has long been known to have a culture of innovation, and its success has prompted significant societal change (how we listen to/buy music, what we do with our phones, etc.). But HomePod to me is a disappointment in that respect — it’s a follower product that really doesn’t present enough convincing benefit (in my estimation) to usurp the hold that Amazon has on the space with Echo (and Dot and Tap) or even disrupt or deter Google (and Google Home). Certainly there will be those that must have a great (yes, better than the others) speaker that is directly tied to iTunes and works via Siri voice interaction, but for Apple to be truly disruptive here, it would have to have sales that outpace Amazon and Google, possibly displacing them in homes (or at least coexisting); further, I’d argue that success for Apple here would be to sell proportionately as many HomePods to iTunes users it has Apple Watches to iPhone users (i.e., the two must coexist to be effective). Where was the innovation culture of Apple for this product (which, by the way, is also priced 2X an Echo – seriously?).
Digital disruption isn’t only about technology; it can be about business, industry, or society — and culture. Impacts can be positive or negative relative to culture.
I wonder what next week will bring.