What is a Disruptive Force?

A disruptive forces is not a force that results in incremental changes, improving products or services one step at a time. Rather disruptive forces result in a breakthrough or a step change that transforms society forever.  Sometimes the disruption is complete and swift. Just like a hurricane, the force can devastates existing markets, companies and value pools over night – think the explosion of digital music. Other times the disruptive force can be slow moving almost glacial like carving out its transformation (often the slower moving disruptor is the most dangerous because it lulls leaders into a false sense of security believing that they can deal with the problem tomorrow) – think the retirement crisis facing most countries or global warming – The end result though is the same, disruptive forces leave a permanent imprint that prevents society, businesses and people from continuing or operating in the way they used to behave as a new “normal” emerges with new rules for success or failure.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent digital music, neither did Henry Ford invent the automobile. Both leaders however, identified the disruptive nature these innovations could have on existing value pools and invented new business models and ways of doing things that transformed society forever. In both cases it was not the technology per se but the new business model enabled by the technology that resulted in the disruption. The automobile did not automatically disrupt transport on its invention, Goetlib Daimler, the father of the automobile, famously said that hey did not believe there was a has market for the car – primarily because he didn’t believe there were enough chauffeurs! Twenty-six years after being invented, Henry Ford devised the production line bringing mass mobility to vast numbers of people at an affordable price. The true disruptor was the production line.

Disruptive forces enable future focused leaders to erode or empower competitive advantage. The signs of a disruptive force approaching are clear, what’s not clear is where, when or the extent of the impact. It require great insight, analysis, discussion, creativity and leadership to fully harness the power of a disruptive force. Business leaders can’t wait until the individual components of a disruptive forces are having an effect. They need to understand how the strategic advantage they build their business on today might be eroded or enhanced a decade from now by emerging disruptive forces.

What are the disruptive forces that you are keeping an eye on? Please let us know.

For more information on Disruptive Forces in a changing world please contact James

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