What are the leadership competencies for disruptive innovation?
Disruptive innovation is no longer the exception, it’s the rule. Just look at Blackberry, Blockbuster, Borders, and Kodak – all companies that missed opportunities to leapfrog to the next big thing.
If we’re not proactively driving disruption, we’ll eventually need to react to it. Most leaders, however, aren’t prepared for the challenges of leading through such prolonged uncertainty. And to top it off, most organizations are set-up to reward predictability and control – the exact opposites of what’s required to lead during disruptive times.
In the book, the Innovator’s DNA, Clayton Christensen and colleagues list five behaviors that characterize innovative leaders: associational thinking, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting. Christensen calls these attributes “discovery skills” which are all focused on the front-end of the innovation process related to identifying new opportunities.
In addition to these important idea-generating qualities, other skills are equally important when it comes to navigating the overall innovation process given the high level of ambiguity and uncertainty which is inherent when creating business breakthroughs.
Five personal leadership competencies are essential for success in today’s environment:
A Leapfrogging Mindset. Leading disruptive innovation requires a mindset focused on leapfrogging – creating or doing something radically new or different that produces a significant leap forward. Leaders who possess the unyielding intention of creating breakthroughs give themselves a leg up by ensuring everything they do adds a completely new level of value to the market.
Boundary Pushing. Pushing boundaries occurs on two levels. On the personal side, leaders who live abroad, work across different functions, and surround themselves with diverse team members continually expand their mindsets and creative problem solving abilities. On the strategic level, they continually push the limits of their teams, organizations, and partners.
Data- Intuition Integration. Most leaders want hard data when making important decisions. In times of disruption, robust data rarely exist. Leaders must use whatever information they can obtain from any and all sources inside and outside the organization – but then be comfortable using their gut for the rest.
Adaptive Planning. Leading disruptive innovation requires managing incredible levels of uncertainty. Adaptive planning is an approach where action leads to results, we learn from them, and then we modify assumptions and approaches accordingly. Whether these “results” are good or bad, they get us closer to the breakthrough since they result in new insights. These new insights shape our future actions that are even better calibrated to the needs of the market.
Savoring Surprise. Disruptive innovation is a process laden with surprise – unexpected technological advancements, competitive moves, customer feedback, political and regulatory shifts, and other unforeseen events. Most companies assume surprises should always be avoided. But leaders who recognize that surprises are an inevitable part of the process (and a natural part of business, and life) are best able to actually use surprise as a strategic tool – which makes them the most agile and fastest to capitalize on unforeseen events.
Leaders who want to make a significant difference for themselves and their organizations need to embrace new skills in today’s increasingly disruptive competitive environment. While new behaviors are important, so are new mindsets. Leading disruptive innovation requires a new set of assumptions, many of which are based in a personal sense of humility– the recognition that we don’t (and can’t) have all the answers, and that disruptive innovation is all about finding clarity through embracing uncertainty.