You’re probably sick of hearing it again and again. This buzz word that’s always mentioned in the same breath as the digital transformation. Sometimes the disruption takes the form of a threatening scenario, sometimes as a utopia of unlimited possibilities – depending on who takes on the topic or for whom the message is intended. This is almost always accompanied by the urgent plea that we must step things up at the forefront of the digital transformation. The basic tenet is that we require more disruptive technologies. We require more disruptive business models. So let’s get on with it! Come on all you corporations, medium-sized businesses and startups!

But focussing on disruptive technologies can quickly lead to tunnel vision

There is no question that disruptive technologies and business models can be a powerful source of value creation. But what the current discussion fails to address is that, besides the phenomenon of disruptive technologies, there are two further starting points for disruption, which also carry a high value-added potential in themselves – and which are in the limelight much less frequently. Interestingly, these three disruption potentials are strongly interconnected, and so I have coined the term “Disruption Triad” – a triad of technology, organisation and people.

It is important to understand the mechanisms of this triad in order to fully exploit the wealth of value inherent in disruptive technologies. Because, at the end of the day, a new technology only reaches its full value creation potential if there are actors (the people) and areas of action (the organisation) that make it possible. As technology advocate and Harvard professor Vivek Wadhwa puts it so well: “Technologies like Blockchain, AI and peer-to-peer are just buzzwords. What counts is developing real solutions.”

As such, we need people who are able to anticipate the future and who have learned to practise disrupting their own thinking – without tumbling into a state of panic. True to Friedrich Hebbel’s assertion: “It often requires more courage to change your mind than to remain true to it.”

In order for these people to be effective in their role as value-creation catalysts, they need to operate under the right conditions. As such, organisations are also called upon to question their beliefs and decision criteria, which may have led to a silo mentality, long-winded decision processes and unproductive activity. Consequently, disruption of the classical organisational structure and culture is also a very important lever on the way to a digital future that safeguards value creation.

Beliefs really are very subtle

So far so good. Maybe you think you’re on the right track because new work is already on your agenda. Before you start patting yourself on the back, let’s delve a little deeper into the subject. The beliefs of individuals and organisations have a very subtle effect – an external observer is usually required in order to uncover them.

Take, for example, the question “How does an organisation assess good work and make this assessment visible?” In a Tayloristic system, the hierarchy and a portfolio of status symbols are used (the size of the individual’s office, which company car they have, who is invited to which internal events, etc.). In an agile, self-organised organisational unit you won’t find any of this – sometimes not even titles.

When an organisation now serves both worlds – often referred to as ambidexterity – it is exciting to see how the old Tayloristic approaches continue to work. An employee of a large traditional company recently formulated their observations as follows: “The realities surrounding self-organisation of large companies can sometimes be absurd. Particularly where non-hierarchical structures meet top management, the degradation game that takes place isn’t very subtle. The question arises as to whether employees in agile models – alongside female managers – represent a new minority in everyday corporate life with low acceptance.”

This simple example shows how powerful beliefs are. And how important it is to track them down and ‘reprogramme’ them in the sense of a cultural change. Even the best disruptive technology is useless if it is met with counter-productive attitudes and views.

But this is not only a task for the much-discussed cultural change in organisations. At the individual level, we are also challenged to deal with our own value and coordinate system and to critically question established opinions and points of view (our own and those of others). Collective cultural change is made up of a multitude of individual contributions.

The triad of disruptions broken down into a simple formula

When it comes to finding a common denominator for a holistic approach to disruption that best describes the innovation triad of technology, organisation and people, this proverb hits the nail on the head:

We sow a thought and harvest an action.
We sow an action and harvest a habit.
We sow a habit and harvest a character.
We sow a character and harvest a destiny.

Or to summarise it even further: “Matter follows mind” (Einstein).

So it is not superficially our actions, but our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that shape the future. Einstein’s maxim applies to individuals, organisations, and nations alike – and ultimately to all of humanity. Thus, our future is not left to fate, but can be consciously shaped by disruptive thinking.

Value creation is the foundation of our prosperity. It ensures the future viability of our society as well as the peaceful coexistence of humankind. For our own good, this resource should not be used lightly. So let’s cultivate disruptive thinking together – in ourselves and in our companies. For the common good!

P.S. If you still have doubts about the effect of thoughts and words, I recommend the three-minute film “Words can be weapons“. This should take care of any remaining doubts you may have. Promised.

This page is available in Deutsch (German)