Response to Responsive

I was at one of those way-too-early-breakfast-meetings about 4 years ago, and overheard a business owner in the tech sector completely buzzword-shame another business owner – “…you will never grow your bottom line without a responsive website!”.


Wait, what!?


What’s going on here?  Other than the fact that the second business owner had no idea what he was talking about, was someone really suggesting a business’s financial efficiency was somewhat related to how his website could adapt to a smaller screen?  You might understand my surprise if I tell you this other business owner was not in the tech sector at all, but in a very traditional services business (let’s say commercial grade beer brewing equipment to keep things anonymous).

Now, a cynic like me could argue this business owner could have grown his top line using a responsive website which would in turn grow the bottom line etc. Not sure how many people shop for high-capacity conical fermenters on their phone… but I digress.


One of my pet peeves is definitely business buzzwords.  To be clear, I am not saying responsive design is a buzzword, on the contrary it’s a perfectly fitting (although slightly overused nowadays) to it’s intended use.


Here is the thing, some buzzwords have some weight to them and can’t be ignored.  My best example of this is Disruptive.  I don’t particularly like it, but it actually stands for something and has significant weight behind it.  However, what I can’t stand is when a tech buzzword gets taken completely out of context and used in the business world


Enter, the responsive organisation!


Some of you might not be familiar with this, but there has been significant activity around this new movement.  If you look at the very definition of the word, you will see it basically means to react to an external event.  So what we are saying is when an organisation is responsive, it is positively reacting to external changes.  Not quite an earth shattering concept is it?  In other words, we could say that if a traditional software company which has been around for 15 years, suddenly decides to make the shift to a SaaS model in 2015, they are being a responsive organisation? Responsive is a word used when doctors describe if a patient in the coma is brain dead or not.  “His pupils are responsive, there is hope” Is that the bar height you want to be setting for your business?


When I hear an organisation is responsive, it tells me it has the absolute minimum reflexes to stay in business.  It tells me it is able to follow the mass and react to changes when changes come knocking on the door.  Can you imagine an executive at Apple in 1998 suggesting they should be less forward thinking and more “responsive”?  It would have ended in a public hanging in the courtyard.


If only there was a word to describe a behaviour that acknowledges the constantly evolving environment, associated trends and projects a vision of where that environment is heading to prepare for it in advance.  Cough – Strategy — cough.


I like to call out things the way they are, even if some people aren’t always comfortable with that approach, and here is the thing: The problem with “Strategy” is it’s not new.  Then we are back to “Disruptive”, but even that one is already getting old.  Regardless of how trendy all these are, these 3 terms are not interchangeable but actually represent the maturity levels a company should go through in the following chronological order:


Responsive, Strategic, Disruptive.


To be clear, I am not against what the Responsive Organisation stands for.  On the contrary, I think most of it represents the basic foundation companies should be built on.  While we are at it,  I also agree that this basic foundation is lacking in many new and old businesses.  That being said, simply identifying a basic organisational problem and calling it a revolutionary shift in how to operate a business is misleading to say the least.
I believe in results, so I don’t want to glorify an organisation that is working on being responsive, the same way I don’t want to glorify a 4 year old learning how to walk.  I do want to glorify a 4 year old starting to learn times tables, and I do want to glorify the organisation that graduated from responsive to disruptive.