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It’s a word you hear everywhere these days.

What does it really mean?

Good question.

To find an answer, begin with a dictionary definition. Here’s one: Disruption is a “radical change in an industry or business strategy, especially involving the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market.”

Or, a “disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.” Here’s the key point that every innovation leader should take to heart:

When it happens to you, disruption is your enemy. When you’re the source, disruption is your friend.

If you’re a business owner and suddenly a competitor offers a new product that’s better than yours and at a lower price, that’s the disruption that you don’t want. It could even put you out of business.

But if you’re the disruptor, and you’re innovating and staying ahead, disruption is good for you.

Which side would you rather be on? Do you want to be on the receiving end of disruption, or the one dishing it out?

Do you want to be a leader who’s constantly playing catch-up or a disruptive leader who forges ahead boldly, laying the course for others to follow, and staying ahead?


The Five Faces of Disruption

As with any concept, to understand disruption, and its power to either help you or damage you, let’s break it down into manageable chunks. In the business marketplace, we see disruption emerging as an increasingly powerful force in five key areas:

  1. Increased customer power. People who buy your products have more choices and they’re more involved in the brands and suppliers they love (and hate!). They not only “vote” with their cash, but they can make their voices heard through social media and on platforms such as Yelp and Angie’s List. They want, and expect 100% on-time delivery in full, and no-nonsense returns. No company can survive without managing the disruptive power of the customer—which means exceeding expectations, first time, every time.
  2. Revolutionary connection architecture. Digital media has disrupted the way we do business. Internal tools now include intranets and real-time dashboards that can deliver up-to-the-minute company performance metrics and reveal problems demanding action. We now shop online, putting enormous pressure on bricks-and-mortar retailers to innovate and redefine the customer experience. In the supply chain, the Internet of Things (IoT) means that every step is tracked and verified—there’s no place for sloppy work to hide!
  3. Rapid innovation. The pace of disruption is increasing. Product lifecycles are shrinking. Analysts say that across a range of industries, fifty percent of annual company revenues are derived from new products launched within the past three years. This means that long-term product “cash cows,” which may have been in a company’s portfolio for many years, are becoming things of the past. And if a business is slow to introduce a new product to market, it risks launching something that has already been superseded by competitors.
  4. Evolving economic models. The days of the old top-down, hierarchical company are fading. Today’s digital world of work has shaken the foundation of organizational structure, shifting from the traditional functional hierarchy to a network of teams. As teams operate and customers interact with the company, they must share information about disruptions, what’s working, what isn’t working, and what problems they need to address.
  5. Emerging employee personas. Too many leaders treat their team members as if they live in a single demographic bucket. In fact, leaders are increasingly recognizing a range of what we call employee personas, based on what employees love and hate. It’s not about their age, income, position, ethnicity, or any other traditional demographic factor. Innovation leaders know how to identify their team members across a range of personas, and by doing so they can engineer beautiful experiences for them across a wide range of team touchpoints.

When a leader can be extremely granular about each of their team members and understand them based on what they hate and love, they do a far better job of engaging them, connecting with them and ultimately creating a work environment that delivers the best human experience for them while delivering the best productivity and results for the enterprise.

Employees who feel like they’re being treated with indifference become disengaged, less productive, and more likely to look for the exit.

A New Age Demands New Skills

In a time that requires leaders to leverage disruption, the old management systems no longer apply. Every leader needs to know how fast-moving disruptors are changing what’s required from organizational management and leadership. Organizations need to increase their speed, get better insights, and deliver better experiences to both customers and team members alike. This is the only way to ensure consistent growth and profits.

In short, even if you’re currently in the lead, the pack behind you is picking up the pace. They’re hot on your heels and would like nothing better than to put you one step behind.

That’s reality. But what can a CEO do to stay ahead? After all, we human beings are more or less built the same as we’ve always been. No one is a superhero. Just like everybody else, CEOs need to put in their hours at work and then go home and have a private life. They need to get more done with the same human limitations.  For information on innovation consulting and training visit  for information on innovation speaking visit