Humans have been living in a state of near-constant technological evolution for millennia. We have moved from sticks and stones to steam power through electric power and electronics to digital information technology in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking. While many professionals alive today know nothing but an advanced digital society, the organizations they run are more or less perpetually struggling to keep up with the rampant technological innovation affecting the world around them.
Over the past couple decades, the term “disruption” has become a buzzword that encapsulates the executive fear and distaste for emerging technologies. Yet, because innovation is essentially the default state in the Digital Age, business leaders need to develop strategies for managing disruption in a productive way.
Predict the Future Through a Disruptive Lens
Any new technology — any new product or service, for that matter — has the potential to disrupt an organization or to sustain it. However, technologies are rarely inherently disruptive or sustaining; rather, it is how an organization understands and reacts to a technology that determines how that technology will affect that organization.
It is a mistake to assume that every new technology will be the savior or the downfall of a company. Instead, business leaders need to develop a practice of viewing technologies through a disruptive lens, which will help them realistically evaluate technologies and anticipate their applications within the industry. Learning this practice might require enrollment in digital transformation courses to gain clarity regarding disruptive theory and obtain insights into strategies for reacting to technologies as they emerge.
Track and Evaluate Technological Developments
A business can only react correctly to a new technology when its leaders are aware of it. Thus, business leaders need to stay invested in technological advancement and the release of all new tech, even those not clearly linked to their industry. Executives should assume a proactive approach to technology, evaluating new technologies as they become available, with the intention of harnessing or defending against the power of that technology before it is too late.
As important as identifying and valuing emerging technologies is recognizing the rising or waning power of existing tech. Technology is never fixed, and it is always evolving; once a technology exists, it is developing, advancing or declining, and every phase of a technology’s lifecycle might cause a change in how an organization reacts to that technology. Business leaders might need to recruit assistance in tracking and evaluating technologies from professionals in other departments, especially IT.
Watch and Match Competitor Strategies
Within an industry, competing companies are always striving to disrupt one another with newer and better strategies and tools. Thus, business leaders need to be poised to identify disruptive innovation in their competitors and respond quickly and adequately to overcome the threat. This might mean developing comparable products and services or streamlining business processes to offer competitive prices. Business executives tend to have access to the same data, the same technology and the same talent as their competitors, so it should be possible to anticipate the plans of competing companies and remain competitive in the marketplace.
Develop Unshakeable Consumer Loyalty
The threat of disruptive technology becomes much less powerful when an organization is protected by a significant number of loyal and enthusiastic customers. Even in the Digital Age, customer satisfaction is by far the most valuable tool to achieving business success. Satisfied customers return to provide business recurrently, and they provide valuable word-of-mouth marketing within their networks.
In addition to keeping customers satisfied, business leaders should find ways to keep their customers close. Close engagement will help executives identify and access changes in consumer expectations and behaviors in a timely manner, so the organization can develop strategies to stay ahead of potentially disruptive forces.
Encourage Autonomy and Creativity in Leadership
Often, an effect of leveraging disruptive innovation is frequent surprises. Though business leadership should strive to develop plans and strategies, the truth is that disruption typically takes the form of unexpected technological advancement, unprecedented customer feedback, unforeseen competitive maneuvering, unanticipated shifts in political and regulatory policies and other startling local and global events. To survive and thrive in an environment so dominated by surprise, business leaders must remain agile.
Leader agility is built upon autonomy and creativity. Organizations need to provide their leaders with space to make strategic decisions that benefit their teams, clients and company without wasting time or resources running the idea up the chain of command. With appropriately agile leaders, a business can not only endure disruption but prosper because of it.