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Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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2 The impact of disruptive technologies

At a first glance, the phrase ‘disruptive technologies’ might sound intimidating, but it actually refers to many of the things you are most familiar with – from accessing the internet via your mobile phone to storing things in ‘a cloud’.

A pile of smart phones showing different, colourful images.
Figure 1 Disruptive technologies are more familiar than you think.

IT Education site Techopedia (2017) defines disruptive technology as ‘any enhanced or completely new technology that replaces and disrupts an existing technology, rendering it obsolete. It is designed to succeed similar technology that is already in use.’

In 2013, McKinsey Global Institute listed 12 potentially disruptive technologies that would transform life, business and the global economy (Manyika et al. 2013). They looked for technologies that are rapidly advancing with the potential for broad reach and economic impact. One of these is the Internet of Things, i.e., the ability of networked devices and infrastructure to monitor their environment, report their status and even take action, based on the information they collect and receive.

This video explains their findings: The Internet of Things: New insights from the McKinsey Global Institute [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Other disruptive technologies include:

Table 1 Disruptive technologies
TechnologyFuture examples
Mobile internet Connecting billions more people mostly from developing countries; delivery of services e.g. healthcare, education; wearable devices etc.
Automation of knowledge workComputers can learn rules and concepts, understand human speech, make judgements – changing the nature of work for many people
The Internet of ThingsNew ways of monitoring and managing businesses, services, health, home life etc.
Cloud technologyThe delivery of enhanced services and applications to internet users; lighter, faster mobile devices with greater capabilities
Advanced roboticsIncreasingly capable robots with enhanced senses, dexterity, and intelligence used to automate tasks or augment humans
3D printingHas the potential for disruptive impact on how products are designed, built, distributed and sold.
Source: McKinsey Global Institute Report ‘Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy’, 2013

Any of these technologies could significantly change sectors or industries, but some of them have the potential to change everyone’s productivity and efficiency by improving working practices, methods of communication etc.

Activity 2 The impact of disruptive technologies

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Choose a disruptive technology from the list outlined above and, in the box below, summarise how you think that might impact on leadership in the future.

Alternatively, use this example, taken from the McKinsey Global Institute Report:

It’s 2025 and you arrive at your desk for another day at work. As you take your seat, the day’s appointments are displayed in front of you and your digital assistant begins to speak, giving you a quick rundown of the 43 new posts on the departmental communications site. Three are important for today’s meetings; the rest will be summarized by the system and sent in the daily report. The assistant notes that all the reports and multimedia presentations have been uploaded for your meetings.

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This exercise is all about leadership context again (see Week 2). There will be certain decisions, methods of working etc. that are different with the introduction of disparate technologies into your business or organisation and, as a leader, you’ll need to be aware of them and able to facilitate their introduction. The management of innovation is a complex field. If this is a topic you’d like to explore further, Satell (2013) provides a useful overview in his blog post ‘How to manage innovation’.

When disruptive technologies are transforming your operating and business models, and your customer experience, there will be an inevitable impact on the staff experience too. Your role as leader is to embrace, support, promote and deploy innovation, while facilitating the potentially rapid change that your team will be experiencing. Refer back to Week 6 to revisit leading change.