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How To Teach Large Companies To Disrupt Themselves

The secret method creative agency Huge uses to help firms prepare for change.

How To Teach Large Companies To Disrupt Themselves
Aaron Shapiro, CEO of Huge [Photo: courtesy of Huge]

Sure, your billion-dollar business is at the top of the heap now. But what happens when the next startup comes and makes all your work obsolete? This is precisely the fear every leader–big company or not–should have. And it’s a scenario the strategy and marketing agency Huge workshops with its clients.

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This week, at Fast Company‘s Innovation Festival, Huge opened the doors to its Brooklyn office and gave attendees a look into one of its newest methods for fostering institutional change. Called “future making,” the multi-week exercise asks companies to “get ready to disrupt themselves,” explained Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro. It’s one part hackathon, one part brainstorming session, and one part soothsaying–and the intent is to help companies figure out what they need to change if they want to stay relevant.

Future making begins with a goal–usually it’s to reimagine your industry. Asking the right question is important; if you work in retail, asking to define the “future of e-commerce” is far too broad. A better goal would be to figure out what future user experiences for the retail industry will look like in the next five to 10 years. As Emily Wengert, Huge’s vice president of user experience, put it, it’s about “bringing together long-term thinking and near-term thinking.”

Once a goal is set, participants break up into teams–each containing a concert of perspectives. No one person on the same team should have the same specialty or background. The teams are then asked to compete against each other to create an idea–or “artifact,” as Huge calls it–that speaks to the goal. In essence, they create a mockup that answers the overall question.

The teams have about two weeks to brainstorm, discuss with mentors, receive feedback, and iterate. They are then asked to present their idea to a group of judges. The top artifacts are asked to spend even more time fleshing out their ideas. Then those are judged a few weeks later, and a winner is crowned.

It’s not over yet, mind you. Once the winner is crowned, the entire organization should look at the elements of the idea and “extract” the best parts. That is, the company doesn’t need to implement whatever the team created, yet it should look at why this idea won, and how it could impact business down the line.

By creating a system that looks well into the future, an organization can “pull out parts that can be activated now [as well as] identify beacons to implement in the next six to 12 months,” said Huge’s managing director of technology Gela Fridman.  In short, this multi-week process of trying to visualize disruption helps businesses figure out what elements they need to focus on in the coming years so future competitors don’t catch them off guard.

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This, of course, is just a truncated synopsis of a weeks-long exercise; future making is something Huge has spent years working on. With its clients, the agency has begun to facilitate future making as a way to teach agility. The financial solutions company Broadridge, for instance, tried it out and came up with ways that paying bills could change down the line.

The most important element of the exercise isn’t to build something new–it’s about teaching companies how to adapt and anticipate change.

The one thing that every industry is doing, said Shapiro, is “undergoing rapid change.” It would behoove them to think about disruption before it’s too late.

About the author

Cale is a Brooklyn-based reporter. He writes about business, technology, leadership, and anything else that piques his interest.

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