By Romsanne R. Ortiguero

Oftentimes, disruption is negatively defined as a disturbance or a problem that interrupts an event, activity, or process. In this day and age characterized by waves upon waves of technological advancements, digital revolution permeates everyone’s lives including how companies do their businesses.

However, disruptions can turn into great opportunities; and having this mind-set as a response to these changing times have set some businesses apart from the rest.

This had been one of the focus of the recently concluded BusinessWorld Economic Forum held last May 18 at Grand Hyatt Manila in Taguig City. In one of the afternoon sessions titled “Finding Opportunities in the Age of Disruption,” Orlando B. Vea, president and CEO of Voyager Innovations; Anthony Thomas, CEO of Mynt (Globe Fintech Innovations, Inc.); Brian Cu, country head of Grab Philippines; and Miguel Cuneta, co-founder and chief community officer of Satoshi Citadel Industries (SCI), shared valuable inputs on how they were able to and continue to navigate the disruptive digital revolution to make their companies sustainable and competitive.

In his presentation, Mr. Cuneta underscored that the response to disruption is mostly unfavorable, and identifying those reactions can be advantageous.

“The initial response to disruptive technology is usually fear, doubt, or resistance. Fear because of the unknown, and resistance because we’re naturally resistant to change; and it doesn’t help that the incumbents feel threatened and fight back — trying to defend their position,” Mr. Cuneta shared.

“Eventually, the very disruptive technologies that people were afraid of become basic utilities. What are the examples of disruptive technologies today and how do we identify them? We actually just need to know what people are afraid of,” he continued.

Mr. Cuneta added that those who dismiss disruptive technologies are usually the ones who get to be affected by it, and old industries that don’t adapt become obsolete. Moreover, the SCI co-founder also said that disruption is incessant and inevitable.

“There’s no really age of disruption; it’s really a constant process by which humanity uses technology to solve specific problems. It’s necessary for us to become a more advanced society and truly, disruptive technology is unstoppable,” he shared.

Given that disruption constantly happens, all the speakers shared the same sentiment that disrupting themselves are necessary to be able to effectively navigate challenges, and make their companies resilient.

Mr. Vea said, “Today’s disruption is tomorrow’s business as usual. That’s a fact of life. Before you’re able to disrupt, you have to disrupt yourself first.”

He added that if you’re an incumbent, disruption is a “CEO thing” — a decision that has to come from the very top.

Mr. Cu also shared how Grab, known as a major disruptor in the country’s transportation sector, has numerously needed to disrupt itself amid challenges such as government regulations and some negative feedback from the riding public in order to remain an agile company.

“It’s important that for every disruptor not to forget your roots, not to forget the basics of why you came into the market, and disrupt the market that you wanted to. For us it is three simple rules: safe rides, convenient rides, and fast rides. Now, we have to re-look at all the processes we have built over the last five years and again disrupt ourselves to be able to deliver those three core values that we’ve set out to do. It’s always good to anchor yourselves to those basic values that you’ve started off with,” he shared.

The speakers also underscored the importance of collaboration with different stakeholders or even between incumbents and start-ups. This collaboration would not only benefit the companies involved, but ultimately, the market that they are serving as well.

Saying that it is fundamentally about people, Mr. Vea said that disruption is not really meant to disrupt the competitor. Specifically for them at Voyager Innovations, disruption means to disrupt the inequalities and inefficiencies together with the incumbents, that’s why they work together with competitors or with incumbents as partners.

“I think we can only survive and grow with that kind of mind-set,” noted Mr. Vea.

Mr. Cu expressed the same view and said, “We cannot work in silos or as a single company trying to do it alone. It is important for start-ups or even large companies who are trying to drive disruption in a certain space to work with other stakeholders. Also, being enablers to a space and being a platform that allows different stakeholders to enjoy benefits of the services you provide is very important.”

Mr. Thomas echoed the same message, and said that as a financial technology provider, they are looking for opportunities to partner and collaborate if they see someone moving into the same business space as they are present in, and are solving the similar problems as they are.

“What we aim to provide is really a better life for Filipinos,” Mr. Thomas said.

Also highlighting the significance of collaboration, Mr. Cuneta shared that no matter how incumbents or regulators resist, the market will eventually choose what is beneficial to them.

“It’s in the better interest of start-ups, regulators, incumbents, and all the players to work together to make sure that the ultimate beneficiary of disruptive technology will be not just all of us here today but also the future generation,” he said.