25th October 2023

Meet Alex: A Disruptioneer Challenging Traditional Thinking

Alex Haydon-Soutar

A disruptioneer seeks out opportunities for disruption then engineers a practical solution. The term was inspired by Disney’s ‘imagineers’. In my role as a disruptioneer at Vodafone, I have the unique opportunity to observe and understand both business and individual challenges, and then build partnerships with disruptive start-ups that can provide innovative solutions. While the term "disruption" may conjure images of large companies shaking up industries with ground-breaking technology or audacious ideas, I have come to realise that disruption is more of a mindset. It’s about having empathy with peoples’ problems, having imagination to solve them in new ways, and ultimately being driven to deliver a tangible solution. It’s a mindset that anyone can embody.

A career that keeps me on my toes:

Embracing the role of a disruptioneer has taught me the extraordinary value of diversity, particularly diverse thinking. By working with individuals from various backgrounds and perspectives, I have been able to challenge my own assumptions and biases, leading to transformative outcomes. It is invigorating to collaborate with smart and intriguing people each day, both in The EDGE (our in-house disruptor) and beyond. One moment, I may be pitching a business case to senior leaders, and the next moment, I could be working closely with frontline employees, tailoring solutions to address their specific pain points. The ever-changing landscape of challenging problems and rapid experimentation is what continuously fuels my passion and motivation in this line of work.

The importance of understanding the problem:

True change and progress lie in understanding the intricate human aspects of a problem, rather than solely focusing on technological advancements. As a disruptioneer, my approach prioritises a deep understanding of the problem itself. This entails actively engaging with end users, genuinely empathising with their challenges, questioning established norms, and thinking creatively. Only after gaining profound insights into the problem at hand can I explore the potential technologies that can be harnessed to provide meaningful solutions.

Finding solutions through partnerships:

As a disruptioneer, building meaningful connections with the business is vital. This means investing time in engaging with individuals within the organisation, truly understanding their perspectives and challenges. Solutions are most effective when people feel heard, valued, and confident in the proposed changes. Although we encounter numerous challenges as we experiment with new approaches, it is precisely these obstacles that make our work exhilarating and worthwhile. One recent example of this is our quest to enhance training for new employees in becoming customer-facing. Recognising the limitations of our existing theoretical training methods, we sought to develop a solution that prioritised practical experience. Through a strategic partnership with a startup, we co-created an AI-Customer, powered by cutting-edge technology like ChatGPT. This AI simulation enables employees to engage in lifelike conversations with virtual customers, receiving real-time feedback on their soft skills and conversational abilities. We are currently piloting this solution with new call centre agents, ensuring that their early interactions with customers feel as seamless and natural as if they had already handled hundreds of calls.

Unlocking new opportunities:

Embracing the disruptioneer mindset goes far beyond a job title; it is a transformational approach to problem-solving. As a disruptioneer, I have the privilege of observing and comprehending both business and individual challenges, all with the goal of connecting with disruptive start-ups to deliver practical solutions. The ever-evolving landscape of problems, coupled with a relentless drive for rapid experimentation and innovative partnerships, keeps me inspired and motivated every step of the way. By fostering diversity and embracing the power of understanding, we can continue to navigate the complexities of our modern world, driving meaningful change and unlocking new opportunities for all.