Self Inflicted Disruption

January 29, 2018

Read any management blog recently and you will come across articles about disruption. The internet, blockchain, and IA are all examples that have been extensively covered.  In fact, there is so much on this subject that “disruption fatigue” has entered the lexicon.

Disruption is typically an external event but it may also be self-inflicted and businesses have used disruptive teams and techniques to reinvent process to great commercial effect and not just when feeling threatened. Amazon and Google embraced digital disruption and in turn, created disruption for others.

Disruption is reinvention and not innovation but they are often considered synonymous. Necessity is usually the mother of invention and innovation also. Blackberry, Kodak and more recently GE stalled when disruption from external competition came along. Innovation may not be for everyone but a little self-inflicted disruption periodically, probably is.

Disrupt at Your Own PaceBefore deciding to “blow up” a process consider the evolutionary state and culture of your organization. There is nothing wrong with starting down the path with a “healthy curiosity” rather than a demolition squad.

Giving a change agent a mandate to “have at it” could mean a recipe for value destruction no matter how moribund performance. Transplants with the title “Chief Disruptor” tend to be rejected by the recipient organization but only after undermining engagement. Try to target what the organization is blocking (e.g. staid thinking or management comfort). Without a visible target a less invasive approach may be appropriate.

Those with disruptive skills can stimulate colleagues to think outside of their comfort zones to add value and the most successful in my experience, are most often insiders. Folks brave enough to stand in the way of accepted wisdom, resistance to change and organizational inertia are scarce and need encouragement to tap into these skills.The Doing of DifferentEven organizations that are:

  • tradition-bound, highly-structured, regulated or compliance-sensitive
  • budget-driven cost competitive or unable to accurately predict costs
  • predisposed to thoughtful analysis; or
  • uncomfortable with risk-taking

will benefit from a disruptive experience but typically resist innovation. Government agencies tend to fall into this group.
High-performance organizations embrace self-disruption in their regular routines and freely reinvent process to achieve strategic goals and to maintain engagement they:

  • Cultivate an openness to new thinking
  • Make available a budget for research
  • Articulate priorities and a sense of urgency; and
  • Encourage measured risk-taking

When performance deteriorates simply resorting to the organization’s traditional strengths may not be enough. High performance is achieved by continual focus on goals and constant disruption of process and activities in response to negative performance or external influence.