The creative force driving disruptive innovation resides in the remarkable, or as some would say ‘rebellious’ minds of those who we at OE Cam have termed ‘Disruptive Talent’.  Their unique perspective on the world sees them adopting unconventional or new approaches, challenging the status quo and spotting opportunities where none had previously been seen.

However, the same qualities that give innovators the ability to think outside the box, can also make them challenging to be around… They are ‘outliers’, whether emotionally, intellectually, creatively or otherwise, and it is precisely these attributes that can make them more likely to ‘derail’, behaving in ways that are destructive to the organisation or feeling compelled to leave it altogether. Organisations that wish to benefit from the extraordinary talent that such people can bring, must also learn how to manage them in such a way so as to reduce risks of derailing.


The characteristics that give rise to some people’s talents can also be the source of their unproductive behaviours.


Derailing Behaviours – identifying the risks

The characteristics that give rise to some people’s talents can also be the source of their unproductive or derailing behaviours. For example, an individual who cannot tolerate inefficiency will identify more efficient ways of doing business – but they may also be intolerant of others’ approaches, berating colleagues or refusing to cooperate with them. The single-minded focus that helps a brilliant engineer solve complex problems, might also make them oblivious to the needs of their co-workers, acting in ways that frustrate and upset them. An account manager might have excellent insights into what his clients need and feel, but the sensitivity that gives rise to such empathy might also see him struggling emotionally or being prone to depression.

Challenges can also arise from what motivates talented individuals. The creative genius who feels enlivened by new challenges, might quickly get bored and take her talents elsewhere. The gifted designer driven by the act of creativity might divert resources to projects of personal interest over those that serve the organisation. The lawyer who enjoys picking holes in any argument, may fail to reign in that ability during everyday conversations with partners.

When Harry Met Sally

All of the above are examples of what we call ‘derailing behaviours’ – they can cause interruptions that take talented individuals off track, even negatively impacting their teams and organisations. However, the fact that these risks exist should not dissuade an organisation from employing disruptive talent, but identifying the risks is the first step to managing them appropriately.

At OE Cam, our business psychologists have experience in identifying disruptive talent during recruitment and in existing staff, as well as uncovering the associated challenges associated with each individual. Often, destructive, derailing behaviours are more likely to be exhibited during stressful periods when an individual’s ability to self-monitor and self-regulate is diminished. For this reason we use particular psychometrics that bring to light how such people are likely to perform under various conditions, verifying our findings through in-depth interviews that look at what motivates them and their past performance. Based on our findings we can recommend whether the risks associated with an individual should deter an organisation from taking them on, or whether this person will just need to be managed in the right way. In the latter case, our findings help us work with HR and managers to build a suitable framework within which such individuals’ talents would be best nurtured, while minimising their associated risks.

Nurturing Disruptive Talent
Unfortunately, there is no single way to manage Disruptive Talent effectively and prevent it from derailing – the approach must be formulated on a case-by-case basis.  As can be seen in the few examples above of talented people with derailing behaviours, there are a wide range of reasons why a person might pose a risk to an organisation.

OE Cam recommends the following to help Disruptive Talent flourish:

1. Assessment: find the right people
The first step is to identify Disruptive Talent through a rigorous assessment process and carefully position colleagues around it/them who are conventional enough to challenge their ideas but unconventional enough to collaborate with them. Capability needs to be complimentary, and working relationships close, transparent and developmental.

2. Coaching: maximising individual effectiveness
Disruptive talent is more likely to “derail” which is why we’re often asked to provide individual support through coaching. It’s a key mechanism for keeping such individuals focussed on the right things and ensuring their impact on others in managed.  It’s also important to provide support to the sponsors and managers of disruptive talent helping them manage it in the most effective way.

3. Develop collective effectiveness

By deliberately putting together teams of people who think and behave differently from each other it is not uncommon for team dynamics to derail effectiveness. Therefore, OE Cam builds tailored programmes to foster team support and development as another key element in achieving success.

4. Expert advice on governance, structure and processes
Governance, structure and processes must enable an entrepreneurial environment, supporting, rather than hindering the delivery of something that is out of the ordinary. Active executive team buy-in and sponsorship is essential.

5.Develop the right recognition and reward systems
Disruptive talent will often have taken some risk and be devoting their time to projects with high degrees of uncertainty. Therefore, it is important to understand their motivation and recognise and reward them appropriately.

6. Help ensure the right environment and workplace design
A start-up environment is not the same as a traditional corporate environment and great ideas don’t necessarily happen in meeting rooms during working hours. In order to bring out the great ideas, creating the right environment is key, as is recognising that a traditional way of working is unlikely to be the right way. Therefore, the right working environment combined with external experiences (which links to team events) are helpful in encouraging individuals to think differently and to think ambitiously.

For more information about how to prevent talent from ‘derailing’, please contact Paolo Moscuzza on