Up until recently, terms like creative destruction, long wave cycles and existential crises referred to scientific and economic theories. Now, they embody the commitments each successful digital business makes to itself, its staff, its shareholders and its customers.

Embracing and harnessing the power of disruption can mean the difference between a business being a ‘Blackberry’ rather than an ‘Apple’. Making disruption the norm in a digital business mandates a willingness to open the floodgates to both the good and the bad, all of which can have a huge effect on one of the most powerful assets of any successful digital business – its staff.

(Image: Clayton M. Christensen. Source: Wikipedia)

When the term ‘disruptive technologies’ was coined by Clayton M. Christensen in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave, he originally envisioned it applying to those executives sitting in procurement, rather than those in conceptual or research driven pursuits. In later publications, including The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, Christensen evolved the term ‘disruptive technology’ with ‘disruptive innovation’. This decision came from a fundamental shift in point of view: he saw that few technologies themselves are intrinsically disruptive or sustaining in character and that it is the business model itself that the technology enables that creates the disruptive impact.

Taking Christensen’s theory further, it is clear that the employees of any organisation are the agents of change and are who brings to life any business model. The key question that every digital leader now faces is: how do I enable my staff to disrupt?

Recently, Netflix has shared its HR policy and beliefs with the world . Sheryl Sandberg nominated it as the most important document to ever come out of Silicon Valley. The diverse range of reactions to the slideshow was overwhelmingly positive and celebrated the transparent approach Netflix had taken. Whilst it isn’t a solution for every organisation, it is a great demonstration of a business being wise to their business-as-usual requirements whilst creating a drive for disruptive innovation.

The ‘Netflix’ solution is an extreme example that suits that particular company. However, there are some great lessons in the document that we could all embrace:

  • Mandate Accountability – make every staff member accountable for their own portfolio. They own the successes and failures, and are given the freedom to reach the goals and targets mutually agreed upon.
  • Live the Values – operationally deploying your values in your hiring, onboarding, review, kick off meetings, town halls and regular meetings. Continually pivoting back to your values will ensure that every person is committed to enabling the business to achieve its goals in the right way.
  • Create Space – Google has a ball pit, Facebook has a slide, every organisation has a different way of enabling its creative and digital staff to relax and enjoy their work environment. We all know that the creative genius strikes at different moments, so make sure to create opportunities for moments in your workplace.
  • Be Visible – an inspiring digital leader should communicate regularly on a face-to-face basis, both formally and informally with staff, ensuring that they are continually reinforcing the vision of the business and how each staff member can contribute to it.

The Australian digital community is full of the bright, vocal and creative people, all of whom have different opinions on what we can be doing to further develop and grow the digital economy. When we enable our staff to disrupt, then we will set a great example to the global digital landscape.

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