Think Conference Wrap Up: Incumbents Strike Back

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Our first ever Think Conference has come and gone, and I continue to be energized and excited by the insights shared at this global meeting of the minds. There are so many technologies and disruptions at work in our economy, and this year’s Think touched on all of them, from the Cloud to Blockchain, to the Internet of Things, to the future of Mobile, to AR and VR, to AI and Machine Learning. Not only are all of these individual technologies producing fascinating shifts in seemingly every industry, but they are also being leveraged in tandem; industry leaders are allowing their businesses to find fertile ground within their organizations, where these technologies can grow and mingle with one another organically.

If I had to pick a single takeaway for the week, it would be that all of this bodes well for large incumbent organizations. Despite new technologies initiating waves of disruption, continually rocking each sector of our economy, it’s no longer just scrappy upstarts who have the advantage: it’s the expansive organizations who’ve been around a long time.

Such companies are poised to succeed in the coming years because they possess mountains of data on which to build new applications. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty declared last year that 80% of the data in our economy is proprietary—unsearchable. This was a data point that came up again and again at Think. As I see it, that 80% can only be seen as a goldmine.

Large incumbents also possess the kind of operating budgets that will enable cross-functional knowledge sharing and experimental collaborations. Startups typically aren’t able to unlock this kind of work because they simply aren’t big enough.

It’s a matter of building a skunkworks mindset within the large organization. This is not always intuitive for the C-suite, because it demands that the organization embrace risks and devote capital to experimental technologies that sometimes lack immediate returns. In extreme cases, such projects may appear to undermine the business model on which the host organization is founded. But because the marketplace is changing so quickly, such extreme measures are imperative.

Looking ahead into the remaining months of 2018, we see a bright horizon for incumbents. They have the power within them to disrupt their own industries, rather than being displaced by newcomers. They need only to possess the courage to disrupt themselves first.

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Want more THINK? Check out our THINK 2018 thinkPod recap episode here.

Leader, Digital Marketing Services, IBM iX || Editor-in-Chief, thinkLeaders

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