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Strategic Thinking Development

Disruption and Successful Leadership

Have you ever considered the frequency of disruption?  Have you ever thought about the term ‘creative disruption’ as a synonym for ‘creative destruction’?  (Creative destruction is most readily identified with Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter and describes the way in which capitalist economic development arises out of the destruction of some prior economic order.)  And have you ever wondered what type of manager is most successful during periods of disruption?

The American Management Association just published “Leadership Competencies for Disruptive Innovation.”  I thought you would benefit knowing the essential points from this excellent article by Soren Kaplan.

“Disruptive innovation is no longer the occasional exception; it’s the rule.”  All industries have been affected and once grand companies become casualties (e.g., Blockbuster, Kodak) in a relatively short time span.

Today, leaders ‘must acknowledge and embrace a life of continuous ambiguity and uncertainty.’  How does a leader succeed in these environments?  What personal competencies are essential for the woman or man in charge?  The author identifies five:

  1. Begin with a Leapfrogging Mindset  Because disruption is continuous, leading demands a new way of thinking, approaching the world knowing that reinventing and revolutionizing processes, products and functions are basic job demands.  The art of ‘scenario planning‘ should be practiced more often and embedded into all strategy processes.  You should be ahead not just in your thinking, but in your ability to act.
  2. Push Boundaries Despite seemingly impossible challenges, when we push beyond our comfort zone, ‘we increase our creative problem solving and strategic thinking capabilities.’  You can push boundaries by working with people who think differently than you do, who come equipped with perspectives at odds with your way of thinking.  It takes a strong manager to hire people like this, though your career will be better (and longer-lasting) for it.
  3. Integrate Data Intuitively   Much has been written lately about how the number of choices can lead us to make an incorrect decision or delay a decision because we are overwhelmed by the selections at hand.  The AMA article says that ‘In times of disruption, robust data that tells a clear story rarely exists.  Leaders must use whatever information they can obtain and then use their gut for the rest.’  In fact, sometimes ignoring the details can lead to superior decisions.
  4. Plan Adaptively   Acknowledging disruption’s ubiquity means we will move forward with uncertainty. That’s the way things are now.  Thus, a new goal is to learn from your mistakes even more than before and view ‘set-backs as learning opportunities versus failures.’  Your new goal is to ‘take action, see results, learn from them,’ and move on with new assumptions.  ‘Adaptive planning helps organizations move away from the view that if a pre-defined goal isn’t achieved then it represents a catastrophic failure.’  Another consideration is to take trial size bites that you can learn from and either abandon or stress based on outcomes.
  5. Savor Surprise  In the past we learned to avoid surprises by assuming perfect information, flawless execution and stability.  Unfortunately, that philosophy will lead to disappointment.  ‘Learning to appreciate surprise may be one of the more challenging leadership competencies to develop since the skill flies in the face of conventional wisdom.’

The world of business has changed for a wide variety of reasons.  Whatever the cause, disruption and instability have become the new normal.  ‘Disruptive innovation and change require disrupting our assumptions about leadership’ and thus our leaders themselves.

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