Rule-breakers and systems (re)makers

‘Disruption’ is a key idea for entrepreneurs seeking to forge new business models that capture new markets. Yet, the paradox of disruption is that the rule-breakers have to become systems makers. And the critical difference between sustainable success and failure, for those who create novel strategies, is that they must be flexible enough to change again.

Thomas Tuchel, the former manager of leading football clubs like Mainz05 in Germany and PSG in France is a great example. He’s now been handed the gilded but sometimes poisoned chalice of leading Chelsea FC, a business with a demanding set of targets and a relentless focus on excellence and success. Tuchel’s 2012 30 minute ‘Rule breaker’ speech was more like a Ted Talk for entrepreneurs. Dressed in a black t-shirt he outlined his combination of control-freakery and adaption. On the one hand, he instituted strict systems such as players all eating together at the same time. On the other, his tactical flexibility meant he was never wedded to a single system for delivering results. He would shift formation from one match to the next, for example.

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Thomas Tuchel’s 2012 ‘Rule-breaker’ talk

Journalism is a systems business. To deliver content in a timely and efficient ways it has evolved formulae and production processes that allow news organisations to turn complex and fast-moving reality into accessible reporting, analysis, and commentary. New technologies have created new market conditions, production processes and marketing and consumption patterns that have disrupted traditional systems. Some organisations have become rule-breakers, others have taken more incremental steps.

Our work on AI technologies and journalism has shown that the news media needs a fresh strategic approach. It needs people who understand how the old rules are going to be tested and how traditional tactics need to change. It needs rule-breakers. But ‘pivoting to video’ is not enough. The feedback from the most innovative of the AI pioneers in our network is that you can’t just replace the old framework with a new rigid framework. Collaboration, iteration, review and reinvention are now the new ‘rules’.

As a West Ham fan, I might find it difficult to wish Tuchel well at our West London rivals. We’ve also seen many coaches hailed as tactical messiahs heralding new eras. The greatest of them understand that after you disrupt, you have to create. And then perhaps you must be prepared to disrupt yourself.

Journalist, LSE media professor, Polis think-tank director. Writes about journalism, UK & global politics

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