When Terry Jones began his business career as a travel agent 50 years ago, he booked his first reservation by telegram, making him feel as if he had time traveled to the Old West.
“My boss was a Luddite who refused to consider upgrading even to a teletype machine, which were in widespread use at the time,” Jones says.
It was a humble beginning for a man who would someday use technology to disrupt the entire travel industry and, as founder of Travelocity.com and co-founder of Kayak.com, dramatically change how we make travel plans.
These days, Jones talks a lot about disruption, not only as it applied to what he did with online travel booking, but also how all companies are at risk of being disrupted right out of business if they don’t adapt to changing times and changing technology.
Jones shares his thoughts on the subject in his new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It (www.tbjones.com).
That subtitle might make “disruption” sound foreboding – and rightly so – but Jones says within every disruption exists a silver lining of opportunity.
“You call it disruption, I call it innovation,” he says.
In other words, those competitors who upend the business landscape do so by being innovators and risk-takers, something that becomes anathema for too many large corporations that choose caution overexposing themselves to potential loss.
But caution, Jones says, can be the riskiest business move of all.
“You may be afraid to disrupt your organization because you’re afraid it will fail,” he says. “The irony is, your organization will fail if you do not disrupt it.”
Indeed, there exists a mounting casualty rate of once profitable companies that saw their market share dwindle as daring, savvy and previously unheard of competitors emerged to claim their thrones.
Blockbuster, Kodak, Radio Shack and Borders are among those that fell prey to changing times and advancing technology over the last decade. Blockbuster famously turned down an opportunity to buy a small, niche business that rented DVDs to customers by mail. Blockbuster executives failed to recognize the seemingly insignificant Netflix as a disrupter in-waiting.
“It’s unlikely your largest competitors will be your undoing,” Jones says. “The problem is those 5,000 to 6,000 new startups per year that are attacking the traditional world. You need to put their ideas to work and become a disrupter yourself.”
Not every corporate juggernaut ends up tossed on the business ash heap, though.
“There are a surprising number of 100-year-old companies out there,” Jones says. “And most of the ones I’ve talked to seem to have mastered the ability to shed their old skin and renew themselves when required, often quite painfully.”
One that gets a mention in Jones’ book is American Express, founded in 1850 not as a financial services company but as an express shipping business. For more than a century and a half, the company has proven itself open to change and innovation, and it boasts on its website that it has developed many new digital tools and continues to enhance its digital offerings.
“Your company may currently be strong and it may be run by intelligent executives,” Jones says. “But the question is: Are you adaptable enough to change? Even more importantly, are you proactively preparing for change? If so, you and your company are more likely to survive and maybe even thrive.”
Terry Jones (www.tbjones.com), founder of Travelocity.com and founding chairman of Kayak.com, is author of the new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It. For the last 15 years he’s been speaking and consulting with companies on innovation and disruption. Jones began his career as a travel agent, jumped to two startups and then spent 20 years at American Airlines, serving in a variety of management positions including Chief Information Officer. While at American he led the team that created Travelocity.com, served as CEO for six years, and took the company public. After Travelocity he served as Chairman of Kayak for seven years until it was sold to Priceline for $1.8 billion.