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Kay Plantes is an MIT-trained economist, business strategy consultant, columnist and author. Business model innovation, strategic leadership and smart economic policies are her professional passions. A former Madison, WI resident, Kay now resides in San Diego, CA. The views on her blog are not those of her employer, IBM.

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March 4th, 2014

Five practices to sail successfully in the unrelenting waves of disruption

The pace and magnitude of disruptive forces crashing against the seawalls of our businesses and personal lives only grow stronger. The power of 1975’s fastest super computer is now captured in a $400 Apple iPhone. A $100 genome will be feasible in the next decade. These and other examples are cited in a 2013 McKinsey&Company report, “Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy.” Here’s the global consultancy’s list of the most disruptive technologies (out of 100 considered):

  • Mobile Internet
  • Automation of knowledge work
  • The Internet of Things
  • Cloud technology
  • Advanced robotics
  • Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles
  • Next-generation genomics
  • Energy storage
  • 3D printing
  • Advanced materials
  • Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery
  • Renewable energy

    Welcome to the new world of disruptive forces. Is your team ready to stay afloat?

    Welcome to the new world of disruptive forces. Is your team ready to stay afloat?

Why did these technologies make the cut? They are advancing rapidly and have broad reach – touching many industries and leading to new products, equipment and services. The mobile Internet and the Internet of Things is creating home HVAC and electrical systems  we manage on our drive home. Top disruptive technologies also hold the potential for creating significant economic value. Robots which replace manual work and software and databases which automate knowledge work hold this potential. Finally technologies with the most dramatic change to the status quo matter the most. Advanced genomics (coupled with the Internet of things, mobile computing and automation of knowledge work) for example will transform medical care.

So what is a leader to do? Hoping to ride safely into retirement is not an adequate response as the speed with which new technologies disrupt can be startling, as Kodak discovered when it assumed it had a decade before digital displaced film and Microsoft is discovering as computing goes mobile, a technology shift it largely missed.  Facebook’s $14B purchase for a forty-person text-messaging firm demonstrated its leaders’ commitment to thrive in an increasingly mobile world.

Here are my five suggestions for leadership teams that want to thrive as disruptive forces pound our shores:

  • Clarify your role as captains: Stop defining your value-add as guiding the organization to deliver to plan. In today’s turbulent seas, spending most of your time monitoring and controlling today’s financial performance is like the captain of the Titanic focusing attention on deck chairs rather than the glacier on the horizon.  Let the next layer of management deliver to plan. Your highest value added role is rethinking competencies, cultural norms and business models required as the undertow strengthens. If you are not fulfilling the strategic leadership role, your company may capsize.
  • Assume uncertain seas: Engage in scenario based planning. Expand your team with creative outside advisers and internal associates to envision vastly different futures, shaped by how the disruptive technologies unfold and impact your markets. In each scenario decide your company’s business models, including target markets, offering scope, key partnerships, value chain, differentiation and revenue model. This exercise will create greater agility in your team and surface fresh risks to your current market positions and opportunities in which you become the disruptor.
  • Build an agile crew: Treat change management as an organizational skill versus viewing it as a one-time event with a beginning and end date. Much of the angst about change comes from thinking it is a project, versus an organizational constant. Change expectations and you change associates’ experience.
  • Invest in better navigation: As marketing becomes near-term demand-management focused, make sure someone in the organization is looking far more into the future. Your Chief Information Officer and Chief Technical Officer are navigators helping your ship a cross turbulent ocean in the dark.
  • Explore other boats:  It has never been more important to move outside one’s peer group, industry, demographic, media choice and geography to develop a sense of how the world is emerging.  The rapid expansion of knowledge makes us seek the comfort of specialization; but the future belongs to the Renaissance minds.

WTN’s FUSION starts Tuesday March 5. Be sure to attend if you want to learn many more ways to thrive in an age of disruption.

 


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