In their excellent Harvard Business Review article aptly titled “Big-Bang Disruption”, Paul Nunes and Larry Downes make the case that disruptive new entrants will radically transform more industries far faster than originally envisioned by Clay Christensen in his landmark treatise on this subject 18 years ago.
The authors attribute the accelerating pace and scope of disruption to:
With respect to how the new generation of disruptors are likely to impact incumbent market leaders, Nunes and Downes warn: “You can’t see big-bang disruption coming. You can’t stop it. You can’t overcome it. Old-style disruption posed the innovator’s dilemma. Big-bang disruption is the innovator’s disaster. And it will be keeping executives in every industry in a cold sweat for a long time to come.”
If you accept this premise (as I do), it leads inexorably to the question every company should be asking themselves: are we innovative enough to be the disruptor and not the disruptee in the next wave of transformational change in our industry? While there are a number of diagnosticsdesigned to test whether companies have a culture conducive to promote innovation, there is one salient indicator that warrants particular attention: how does your company deal with “truth-tellers”?
Nunes and Downes define truth tellers as “internal or external seers who can predict the future with insight and clarity. In every industry there are a handful of these visionaries, whose talents are based on equal parts genius and complete immersion in the industry’s inner workings. They may be employees far below the ranks of senior management, working on the front lines of competition and change. They may not be your employees at all. Longtime customers, venture capitalists, industry analysts, and science fiction writers may all be truth tellers.”
Truth tellers play a particularly important role in presaging the need and opportunity to develop new business models which disrupt incumbent business positions, long before the need to change becomes obvious (by which time it’s often too late to stop the destruction of your business by a disruptive newcomer).
By their nature, truth-tellers make most business leaders uncomfortable:
Sadly, over a long career in senior management consulting, I’ve witnessed far too many cases where executives not only fail to continuously seek the counsel of truth-tellers, but rather willfully prevent such voices from being heard and evaluated within the organization.
What are some of the mechanisms executives use to stifle truth teller input?:
After 40 years in management consulting and venture capital, I joined the faculty of Columbia Business School, teaching courses in business strategy and corporate entrepreneurship
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