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Utilising disruptive talent to expand the possible


The term ‘disruptive talent’ refers to individuals who see everyday things differently from the majority. They are capable of finding new and significantly more productive ways of doing things whilst rejecting the ‘tried and true’ solutions. 

In some cases these individuals generate ideas that lead to the next big thing – Virgin Atlantic, iPad and Uber are some examples that most people will recognise from very different sectors. All of these have disrupted their respective existing markets, boosted the fortunes of the organisations that introduced them and, in some instances, destroyed their competitors.

However, those with similar qualities to well-known successful individuals, such as Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, are often ignored when they are in organisations. They can be rejected because their thinking does not fit in and can end up very frustrated and, at the same time, be very frustrating to others. 

Can you afford to ignore disruptive talent?

Most organisations can’t afford to ignore ‘disruptive talent’ as those who don’t innovate at best stagnate. A giant century-old organisation can be quickly brought to its knees by its inability to adjust fast enough to changing circumstances. OE Cam works with organisations to identify those individuals, put them in the right projects to disrupt existing thinking and ensure the support is in place for the individuals.

Most organisations can’t afford to ignore ‘disruptive talent’ as those who don’t innovate at best stagnate.

For example, AB Agri (a division of Associated British Foods) invested in a series of new technologies to support its ambition to double its profitability. It termed the project teams around the technologies ‘New Ventures’. 

In order to think sufficiently differently it needed individuals labelled as ‘disruptive talent’ to lead ‘New Ventures’ and teams of complementary individuals, in terms of skills and personalities, to support the ‘disruptive talent’. 

This formed the basis of what we have termed a ‘Disruptive Talent Programme’ where we put together teams and identify the conditions required to increase successes and manage risks. 

AB Agri invested rigorously to get the timing right. Other organisations have tried to rush similar ideas but not considered the people, conditions and market timings. Unsurprisingly these organisations have struggled, lost momentum and, in some cases, given up. 

Can you identify disruptive talent?

Identifying disruptive people is easy; however, ‘disruptive talent’ is much more difficult. We have found that some of the most successful ‘disruptive talent’ have been unsuccessful in the wrong environment.

In some cases they have been written off as ‘a pain’, ‘hard work’ or ‘irritating.’ For one of our clients, a board member stated to his colleagues that ‘If that person you have identified as ‘disruptive talent’ succeeds I will eat my hat.’

The individual has succeeded and the rest of the board keep asking when they will be serving a hat for dinner!

Tailored assessment strategies

The need for a tailored assessment strategy when seeking to identify or recruit ‘disruptive talent’ exists because with such unique individuals, the conventional approach can misfire.

Traditional psychometrics seek to identify predictable behaviour, mitigating the risks associated with employment by ascertaining, as best as possible, how an individual will perform.  However, those with ‘disruptive talent’ can often act in ways that for the average candidate would suggest their unsuitability for the organisation.

For example, a gifted innovator may be rejected because their profile suggests they will not perform well on many conventional measures of success, such as teamwork, empathy and diplomacy.

A gifted innovator may be rejected because their profile suggests they will not perform well on many conventional measures of success

When identifying disruptive talent, an individual’s past performance and track record might reveal some potential to be ‘disruptive talent’ but in-depth personality assessments and deep dive psychological assessments will uncover more about what motivates each applicant and accurately predict their future behaviour.  

What are the key indicators?

OE Cam’s research has found key indicators commonplace amongst successful ‘disruptive talent’, so identifying these in potential leaders helps make choosing the right people easier. It is for this reason that we have tailored our assessment approach to single out exactly that type of talent.

Once the ‘disruptive talent’ has been identified we work through a series of steps to create the conditions for success.  This covers a range of areas from getting the right team to developing an effective governance model.  

There is a definite need for ‘disruptive talent’, but recruiting and working with such individuals is often riddled with difficulties.

Those with brilliant minds often act differently to their peers.They challenge the status quo and can spot commercial opportunities that no-one else sees. They can’t tolerate inefficiencies so find new or more effective ways of conducting business. The benefits to organisations are tremendous, with operations streamlined and new routes to market opened.

The difficulties of working with disruptive talent?

Yet equally familiar are the stories of how difficult such personalities are. Those same qualities that give some of these innovators the ability to ‘think outside the box’, also make them challenging to work with. They are mavericks, independents and perceived as being stubborn or even temperamental. Therefore, organisations seeking to harness such ability, must be careful that they have recruited ‘disruptive talent’, not just those who are plain disruptive.

If you want to preserve the status quo, avoid ‘disruptive talent’ because they will not fit and will disrupt unnecessarily. But if you need to think, change and strive for something that may appear close to unachievable, then carefully selected and well-supported ‘disruptive talent’ may be a powerful catalyst to achieving success.

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