A Look Back at BoxWorks 2013: Does the Bridge-Builder Win?

In part 2 of her notes on the BoxWorks conference in San Francisco, Ayesha Salim examines what it takes to be a Disruptive Innovator.

Malcolm Gladwell said something interesting in his keynote speech at the annual BoxWorks conference in San Francisco. He said, “You can’t be an innovator without a sense of urgency.” The bestselling author and speaker went on to explain: “When you have a disruptive idea, it changes the status quo. It forces people to radically re-organize the way they think about things.”

This struck a chord with everyone in the audience. Yes, most of the attendees in the audience came to BoxWorks to see what the 28-year-old CEO of Box, Aaron Levie had to offer, but they also came to search for answers. Technology is developing at a fast rate and the consumerization of IT is changing the way we work but change can be a bitter pill to swallow. Nobody likes change. Most businesses are still in the early stages of adopting the cloud and are fearful of the unknown. Nicholas Carr, a writer on technology and its effects, noted in his keynote: “Most businesses need to bridge the old and the new.” He continued, “In times of disruption, the bridge-builder wins.”

Should businesses embrace the new change and urgently do something about it? Or should they face the consequences of stubbornly staying put? This is what the customers came to the Box conference to find out. 

Gladwell said: “Social risk-taking has two components: urgency and disagreeableness.” By ‘disagreeable’, he means the attitude of someone who is indifferent to how his peer group feels about him, someone who does not require the approval of others to go through with their ideas. He gave the examples of the Swedish Ikea founder Ingvar Kamrad and Steve Jobs as Disruptive Innovators. What set Jobs apart? His urgency. He disrupted the way things were going at Apple. Disagreeableness is an extremely important trait when it comes to disruptive innovation.

In other words, if you are working with management that refuses to adapt, you need to show your disagreeableness. You need to be urgent. This is the warning Levie is sending to businesses: adapt now or risk falling behind.

Levie believes his company has the solution that fits in with today’s model of working and helps to create a truly collaborative and innovative future. His focus is clear and the idea simple: businesses need new tools for the new way we work.

He said: “The business tools we use don’t address how we work today. Information sits at the center of your business … how quickly can we move that information?” Levie believes he has found the answer with BoxNotes, a collaborative tool that captures, shares, and builds on ideas in real time with anyone.

Box claims it is not directly trying to compete with Microsoft but Levie did make a dig by adding: “Microsoft Word innovated over the years by adding more functionality” and at that point projected a screenshot of one Word toolbar layer after another, to the laughter of the audience.

The big office automation innovations at Microsoft happened before the cloud and it’s Box’s claim that now, in the era of the cloud and BYOD, we need to disrupt the way we work. In a way, BoxNotes is Microsoft Word, but for the new cloud generation.

As I listened to the BoxWorks talks, it was hard to not get sucked in to all the hype but Box is not without its challenges. The constant questions surrounding when Box will make its IPO must get tiring and there is a danger that it could provide an unnecessary distraction away from the core job of the company, making its products better. Levie also faces constant threat from direct competition, like Dropbox and Hightail (formerly YouSendIt), and of course the big sharks Microsoft and Google.

One can’t help wondering how Levie manages to keep his wits about him while trying to stay ahead of the game and in the full glare of the spotlight. Levie confidently makes jokes about Microsoft, but the truth is Microsoft and Google both have what Box at the moment doesn’t: they are both already well established. They could also make things difficult for Box. 

Box today is an online file sharing and cloud content management service for enterprises that Levie says has pulled in 97 per cent of Fortune 100. It has been expanding successfully in the education and healthcare sectors. The company has lured leading technological talent to join his company.  Its hire of former Google Docs engineering director Sam Schillace, is a big win and the company’s board is also impressive. And of course Box is very well funded.

Levie once said: “The product that wins is the one that bridges customers to the future, not the one that requires a giant leap”. Has he done enough to carry them to the future, and when they do that, will they be using Box? Only time will tell. 

Check out Levie’s stage antics and product announcements in an earlier report of the BoxWorks conference here

Ayesha Salim is e-Content Writer at IDG Connect