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June 2019
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TD Magazine

Innovating Via DisRUPTion

Embracing disruption can help leaders navigate change in their organizations.

From changing business structures to the rise of the gig economy, it is often said that businesses today are operating in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. In Talent Reimagined: 7 Emerging Trends for Transformative Leaders, the Center for Creative Leadership poses its own acronym to describe this environment: RUPT (rapid, unpredictable, paradoxical, and tangled).

In such an environment, organizations need new ways of thinking. The report states that organizations need leaders "who can embrace and help create the new normal, not just resist or tolerate it." Simply put, leaders need to embrace disruption.

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While horizontal development—acquiring more knowledge and skills—is common in leadership training, the report says vertical development, advancing one's thinking capability, will help leaders obtain the mindset needed to embrace change. By thinking in more systemic, strategic ways, leaders can improve their ability to innovate in complex or overwhelming environments.

Supporting innovation is another way to embrace disruption. According to the report, while 94 percent of senior executives believe innovation is important, just 14 percent think their organizations are effective at it. If leaders create an environment that encourages taking risks, employees will feel more comfortable sharing new and innovative ideas.

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Leaders should also recognize that innovation varies by role. Individual contributors, managers, and executives all have different responsibilities and goals, and their innovation goals should be different as well. By defining what innovation means for every job level, all employees will have realistic innovation goals they can strive to meet.

The Association for Talent Development's Advancing Innovation: High-Performance Strategies for Talent Development outlines several strategies leaders can take to support innovation. The most common strategy is to regularly acknowledge and highlight the value of innovation, celebrating both successes and failures. Other innovation strategies for leadership are role-modeling innovators' skills and behaviors, structuring teams to include employees with different skills and perspectives, and taking time for creative discussions in both formal and informal gatherings.

About the Author

Shauna Robinson is a research analyst at the Association for Talent Development (ATD), where she prepares surveys, analyzes data, and writes research reports and short case studies. Her previous positions at ATD include human capital specialist and communities of practice coordinator.

Prior to working for ATD, Shauna was a senior editorial assistant at Wiley in San Francisco, California. Shauna received a bachelor’s degree in English from UC Berkeley, and she is currently attending the University of Connecticut remotely to obtain a master's degree in survey research.

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