No matter where we look across our businesses we see technology driven change and transformation opportunities. There are challenges to business models, new operating models on the horizon and disruptive competitors knocking on our customer’s doors. And, of course, where we find challenges, we find options for growth.

For leaders, however, the challenge is not necessarily responding to this disruption – it’s predicting it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking … disruptive innovation or change is disruptive precisely because it cannot be predicted. And while this is true to a certain extent, it’s equally true that disruption doesn’t come from nowhere. There are trends, pressures, movements and shifts that help us see them in advance. And this is why you need a disruptive innovation radar.

Here’s what I mean.

For leaders, it’s essential to cultivate the entrepreneurs mindset – and this means finding ways and means of stepping, and staying, outside of our natural comfort zones. Here are five ways to do this:

  1. Keep a watching brief on the new: Stay curious by observing, watching and listening to the early adopters within your network. Better yet, take a single step beyond your network – to a colleague of a colleague – and arrange a meeting, coffee or get together. Learn what is happening on the fringe of your business consciousness.
  2. Seek the problem worth solving: Not all challenges that you uncover in your business life will be worth pursuing. Find the problems that appear intractable. Look for the challenges where teams continue to fail. When you find a customer opportunity wrapped in a problem worth solving, you’re on the right path. Keep looking.
  3. Provide air cover for the blips on your radar: There are going to be great people in your teams who aren’t quite the right fit, or projects that are outside of “business-as-usual”. Some of these “blips” on your innovation radar will start out small but grow larger as they gain traction. But no tiny blip ever grows without support. Sometimes you need to back these teams and ideas by providing air cover. One way to do this is via an innovation lab or co-creation program. Experiment with different approaches and lead by example.
  4. Experiment in the third horizon: The McKinsey three horizons framework is a useful way of assessing how and where you can invest your energies, air cover and resources. As I have explained previously, horizon 1 is about innovating in the “now”, horizon 2 is about extending your existing mission and model and horizon 3 is innovating for the future. When we’ve never done something before – that is, we are experimenting in the third horizon, there’s bound to be failure – but also greatest opportunity. If you are seeking reward into the future, you’ll need to learn to risk in horizon 3.
  5. Create a consciously diverse culture: Research indicates that the number of women in a group and a broader diversity of makeup drives high levels of performance. In fact, as investor and entrepreneur Brad Feld points out, female-led businesses outperform those run by men. As leaders, there’s a great opportunity to invest in the future by investing in the next generation of diverse leaders.

Nina Nets It Out: While “disruption” tends to heighten the blood pressure of even the most seasoned leader, there are strategies and approaches we can take to see over the horizon. These five steps are a great start.

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