Disruptive talent: An innovation stopgap?

What we really need is disruptive organizational values


Disruptive talent — individuals brought on specifically to identify and develop radically different ways of doing things — find themselves facing insurmountable barriers to success. The cultural or operational anti-bodies reject the new role, so either the disruptor quits or is sent to the innovation lab, a safe remove from the organizational core.

LHH Knightsbridge’s Michelle Moore believes, though, that there is hope for disruptive talent. Her presentation to the SCNetwork made the case for the successful care and feeding of a disruptor.

But let’s take a step back. I am sure Moore would agree the more effective option is for innovation to be gene-spliced into the DNA of a willing organization, rather than plunged into the heart of a skeptical one. In effect, disruptive talent is a stopgap along the road to the singularity. It is our best effort to solve the systemic issue of organizational homeostasis — the resistance to change — that is becoming an increasingly catastrophic trait in these VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) times.

We can foresee a time when value-creation organizations will be very different from what we currently know. They will be clusters of small and flat (by today’s standards), customer-centric innovation teams associated with particular values, but only loosely associated with a particular product, service or platform. Their sole purpose will be to identify opportunity wherever it can be found, then outsource, offshore or throughput execution before moving on to the next innovative value-creation idea. Renown for these entities will come from their ability to ideate and sell.

Too radical? Perhaps. But, if organizations do still look like what we know, it is inevitable innovation will be a strategic imperative.

Meanwhile, back here at the front end of the singularity, we have our talent work cut out for us. How on earth are we to find talent that ticks all the boxes of Moore’s disruptive talent competencies (ideation, execution and personal leadership) while avoiding the derailers (hubris, mercurialness and dominance)? Traditionally, we have had a hard enough time recruiting “execution” and “leadership.” Adding “ideation” to the mix drastically reduces the talent pool.

Regarding the derailers, Moore acknowledged we need to find the Goldilocks setting: Disruptive talent needs not too much, yet not too little. At first glance, it appears we are going to have to search very, very hard; recruit very, very carefully; and pay very, very much.

Ah, but Moore says these competencies can be taught, and the derailers coached. That is true, but considering the effort involved, does this not smack, again, of a stopgap? If we are all struggling so hard to inject and maintain a cultural alien into our midst, are we not highlighting that what we really need is disruptive organizational value leading to disruptive organizational process — more than we need disruptive talent?

Michael Clark is director of business development at Forrest & Company Limited, an organizational transformation firm with 30 years’ experience in developing organizational and leadership capability.

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