Disruptive Talent is the term used by OE Cam to describe individuals whose out-of-the-box thinking sees them innovating in ways that disrupt the markets in which they operate or their organisations’ traditional operating processes. Business leaders need to allow such people to flourish by protecting them from those within the core business who might block or reject ideas perceived as unconventional.
In order to do this, they should initially think through some core questions that will help them determine the most fitting way to provide that support. These questions include:
- How ambitious is your leadership team’s vision with regards to growing alternative futures for the business?
- At what stage of development are your current disruptive ideas – e.g. concept, prototype or go to market?
- Have you appraised both the risk of adopting disruptive ideas, as well as the risk of not doing so?
- Are you clear about the amount of time, effort and financial investment you are prepared to invest?
- Are you clear as to what type of disruptive talent you need to deliver your future opportunities and what type of disruptive talent you actually have in your business?
- What level of disruption are you prepared to take?
The answers to this assessment can help you define the right framework of soft and hard governance that needs to be put in place to protect and promote your disruptive talent. For example:
- Time to think
- Informal permission to act
- Formal freedom to act
- Licence to act
- Space to act
Time to Think
This is where you give individuals and project teams time to think through and investigate ideas that could potentially take the business beyond the status quo. 3M, Hewlett-Packard and Google are all well known for this.
Informal Permission to Act
The firm’s leadership can also create the right environment in which individuals and teams are able to break some rules in order to create something new. This is established at a more informal level by the tacit behaviours of the leadership team in what they support, condone and resist. For example in the past, Dixons would encourage its Area Managers to run their own mini-trials.
Formal Freedom to Act – Governance
To make it harder for others in the organisation to challenge and prevent the disruptive ideas from succeeding, a company can establish rules within its existing structure which define which resources will be made available (human and financial), along with goals, milestones and support, providing a framework within which disruptive projects can thrive.
Licence to Act
Once a disruptive project gains some traction, the business may then ‘step up a gear’, switching from supporting these disruptive endeavours as projects within a governance framework, to creating a separate organisational entity with its own resources and separate management processes. This would allow it to grow into something more substantial with the possibility of later grafting it onto the existing business. For example, Vodafone established its 3G business as a separate business, one junction down the M4 motorway from its core 2G business in Newbury.
Space to Act
Here the business creates an internal market of resources and ideas, within which people are given the freedom to form, develop, grow, merge, reduce and kill off ideas, as advocated by Dr Kazuo Inamori’s ‘Amoeba Management’.
These five different approaches provide varying degrees of opportunity for disruptive talent to flourish. Choosing the right model for your organisation is a reflection of your leadership’s appetite for disruption and their assessment of how much disruption the business can cope with at any particular time.