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Last week during the #SB50DISRUPT event, I tuned in on Blab to hear the latest on the concept of digital disruption – specifically, the thinking of Chief Digital Officer Jonathan Becher, who’s leading the charge here at SAP. This spirited live-streaming social media session covered a lot of fascinating ground, and I’ve summarized the key takeaways from Jonathan’s remarks in this short blog.

Disruption creeps up on you. By the time you recognize it, it’s too late.

Most people think in a way that’s linear. They look for, say, a 5% improvement by next month or next year. But in fact, many fast-moving changes in the digital world are not linear but exponential improvements. They start small, and before you notice, it’s too late and the trend has overtaken you. The challenge is that it looks like nothing is happening at first.

In an analogy appropriate to the Super Bowl, sometimes a winning sports team seems to come out of nowhere. But it’s more likely that they were practicing hard and getting better in that deceptively exponential way. No one notices until they win the big game.

Disruption is defined by that. It’s all happening in front of you.

A digital mindset is the key – developing a culture where people are willing to embrace change.

How do you foster a digital mindset? Especially in large organizations, the culture is far more important than the strategy. People need to be encouraged to try something new, be willing to challenge the status quo, to experiment. And experiments can go wrong. Instead of seeing that as a failure, learn from it, publicize it, share the experience.

If you see ways of rethinking your business model, what works the best is not to force the change right away. Describe a series of small changes, and explain that if the organization invests in these things, they may replace the usual way of doing business. That way, people are much more willing to give it a shot.

You can’t start with a mandate. Ask people what they need to get there. For example, we wanted to move toward a more collaborative culture on our team, involving more people to use an online collaboration tool. We heard concerns from people about being too exposed, so we set up an anonymous town hall. Now that people are comfortable expressing themselves, we have made a big shift toward communicating using this tool where everyone can engage, gradually moving away from exclusive use of e-mail.

And take a hands-on approach. Do it yourself. If you bring in a consultant, sit next to that person and work side by side. Be in a constant state of questioning and learning. Surround yourself with people from diverse backgrounds. Look for something you believe and try to find someone who disagrees. If we all have the same point of view, we are not going to learn.

Disruption is inevitable; transformation is a choice.

Digital change is happening so fast, the best you can do is make a series of little bets. You place little bets and learn to recognize more quickly what’s working and what’s not. “Disruption happens from the outside,” Jonathan says. “It’s unexpected. But you have a choice of being disrupted by somebody else, or organizing and planning the disruption you expect to happen.” And that’s how organizations transform.

These are the highlights from Jonathan’s interview that I found most compelling – but I encourage you to watch it yourself and hear more about how SAP is disrupting its own business. Take, for example, our recently formed business unit SAP Digital: we are driving a new customer experience, allowing people to make self-service purchases of SAP and third-party offerings and use them with minimal human interaction. Check out SAP Store to see what I mean. And please let us know what you think by commenting below.

Federica De Monte is social and community manager at SAP Digital. Follow @federicademonte on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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