THE CASE FOR LEVERAGING DISRUPTION

Globally, a critical threshold has been breached. Rapid, disruptive change is the norm! The choice of whether to embrace and leverage disruption or ignore it and accept the consequences is a decision that we all must make.

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While some are actively leveraging disruption, too many have misunderstood, ignored or put it on the ‘back-burner’. For those not embracing and leveraging disruption, our research has revealed a rapidly emerging behaviour we call MAD - Managed Adaptive Decline.

MAD is a state where an organisation or a person creates an illusion of progress and a false sense of security by gradually adapting to declining conditions in a seemingly well-managed and productive manner. The process of gradual adaptation masks an exponentially unfolding spiral from relevance to irrelevance. Eventually, disruptive change dominates, and the creation of authentic and sustainable productivity and profitability systemically shuts down. At some point during the descent into MAD, reality usually strikes, fear and insecurity reign and the journey out of MAD becomes increasingly problematic. This is the ‘boiling frog’ metaphor at its best.

Disruption is not new.

Historically, it has been an essential part of life, the decline and growth of business and the evolution of the capabilities of people. From the first tools, to fire and the wheel through to the agrarian, industrial and digital revolutions, disruption has always been intertwined with innovation to produce opportunity and advancement as well as uncertainty and unsettling change.

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What makes disruption different today is the broad scope of change, its global scale, the exponential speed at which it is unfolding and the immediate, systemic impact on customer behaviour, channels to market, business and operating models, logistics, shareholder expectations and the underlying capabilities, skills and competencies on which all organisations rely.

For most organisations and their people, disruptive change is experienced as a rapid and disorienting break from what they are used to. As such, people and organisations find it hard to keep pace or even consider taking advantage of these changes. In this environment, our fundamental human capabilities, applied in the old way, are highly suboptimal. Conventional skills, basic competencies, ways of thinking, planning frameworks and approaches to strategy are not able to generate sustainable value and may even be dangerous.

Too often, people and organisations either lock into applying out-of-date capabilities by working longer, harder and faster or by applying change management, innovation, LEAN, AGILE or design thinking techniques that do not fully address the underlying issues associated with the challenge of rapid disruptive change. As a result, these approaches often fail to have the anticipated impact and become unfulfilled or meaningless investments.

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What this Means for Organisations and People 

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For organisations... this leads to strategies that have little hope of working, the high costs of continuous reorganisation, unrelenting turnover of talent, workforces that are cynical about change and change plans, loss of productivity, compromised sustainable ROI and vast increases in material strategic risk. 

It is in this state that organisational leaders are trying to answer the question, “What authentic changes do we have to make to our organisation to a) equip ourselves with the capability to meet and leverage imminent disruptive change, and b) what strategy do we need to leverage such disruption rather than fall foul of its consequences?”. 

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For people... apart from a well-founded and growing sense of uncertainty and insecurity, disruption fuels a modern, global dilemma known as cognitive dissonance, where our behaviour is in direct conflict with our knowledge. In other words we question ourselves with: “I know that what I do is fast becoming out of date, but I keep on doing it”. 

The reality of this mental state sits behind much of the disorientation, stress, anxiety and depression being experienced by people and within today’s workforces. It is in this context that people are trying to answer the question, “What mindset do I need and what skills should I focus on learning to be able to deliver value into the future to retain valued and secure work?” 

Not only are both of these dilemmas unproductive and costly for organisations and the people that employ them, they also undermine the safety and security of the societies and economies that organisations and communities rely on to be long-term, reliable customers, employees, suppliers and neighbours.


Despite 3 in 4 leaders saying their organisation has a good awareness of disruption, 60% do not understand the internal capabilities required to address it, or more importantly, leverage it.
— Disruption Ready Report 2019

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