When Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction” back in 1942, it’s doubtful that he could have foreseen the degree to which the digital revolution would result in the rapid-fire and relentlessly accelerating rate of change typical of the current business environment.
Today’s unyielding pressures, catalyzed by the dual force of changing consumer expectations and upstart competitors that have dialed right into those expectations, have left established companies in a state of constant chaos and disruption.
While ceos have responded to the changing environment with varying degrees of success, it’s clear that winning today requires a new set of rules of engagement.
Among the businesses most affected by these pressures are retailers and consumer brands. For retailers, disruption that started out as a single online threat has evolved into the more existential challenge of seeing the very brands they carry threaten to disintermediate them by going direct to consumer. And as for the brands themselves, they have seen themselves socially outmarketed by independents and start-ups exquisitely tuned into the consumer’s vibe, from cosmetics to jeans, and from how the product is presented to the way it’s delivered.
Ceos, or at least those ceos who have been able to pivot, have had to shift roles from the popular perception of a rigid, impenetrable figure stonily staring down external adversity, to something more closely approximating a martial arts master, or a Jedi Knight in “Star Wars.” Being undisruptable today requires much more than steering companies through monumental events—it demands that leaders navigate constant turbulence, continuously fine-tuning their course accordingly.
We wanted to get to the bottom of what is necessary to build this new model of leadership, so we launched a research project that involved speaking with many Fortune 250 ceos across many industries, ultimately trying to answer one critical question: What does it take to be undisruptable today, and what will be demanded of ceos and their organizations to avoid disruption tomorrow?
We found that undisruptable ceos need to maintain constant pressure to transform their organizations by cultivating a high tolerance, if not a passion, for ambiguity — and infusing others with the same mind-set. In a volatile world, today’s leaders need flexibility, agility and a willingness to extend their organization’s capabilities into new and sometimes unexpected areas to keep ahead of ever-encroaching competition. While some of these traits are already being taught in business schools, there are meta-management aspects to it that might be more akin to something you’d learn in a Taekwondo or meditation class.
In the course of our research, we got a clear view into the essential aspirations of the leaders we studied — what they wished they could do better, do more of, or do differently to fend off their interpretation of disruption. We identified five characteristics as particularly important to cultivating resilience to disruption. Ceos who appeared to be undisruptable and had successfully led their companies through relentless change embraced ambidexterity, cultivated emotional fortitude, adopted a beginner’s mind-set, mastered what we call disruptive jiu-jitsu, and truly stepped into the shoes of their customers. From this, our research afforded us the opportunity to define a new, quasi-spiritual set of rules for success drawing on a combination of discipline, focused calm and an active dynamism.
In our next article, we’ll go into these five essential attitudes in detail.
About the Authors:
Mark Lipton is graduate professor of management at The New School in New York City, an accomplished author, and an eminence and content strategy contributor for Deloitte’s CEO Program. He is based in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional inquiries can be sent to Jean-Emmanuel Biondi, principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP who serves as the apparel lead for Deloitte’s Retail and Consumer Products practice. He is based in Atlanta and serves clients in the greater NYC area. Jean Emmanuel can be reached at email@example.com.