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Leading through Disruption

We often hear that change is constant. The truth – disruption is constant. In fact, life is filled with constant disruptions. In the news recently, we see images of the earthquake in Nepal with over 5000 reported deaths. Even hikers on Mount Everest were disrupted by the quake. On a more benign front, I recently traveled to Canada for a conference. On my return flight I had a layover in New York. My flight was scheduled to depart the gate at 4:05 pm. We didn’t pull back from the gate until near 5 pm. My life was disrupted by an hour.

Delays during travel are not unusual. The problem – I didn’t plan for a disruption. My life – much like yours – is filled with disruptions. Some disruptions are life altering – like in Nepal – and others are general annoyances.  How we prepare for the possibility of disruption makes all the difference.

Most of my work these days is in helping organizations think about the future. While no one can know the future with certainty – we can begin to consider a preferred future as well as emerging realities within our world. I believe that a great leader is constantly asking “What If”. What if a new technology emerges? What if the market crashes? What if there is not enough human capital to fill the available jobs? Asking these questions help us to develop the thought space of disruptions as well as the mental model to deal with those disruptions.

Consider this as an example.  In 1989 it was predicted that by the year 2000 less than half of the working population would be in full time employment. In 2011, a Gallup poll indicated that the number was less than 45%. If we continue this trend out to the year 2040 we are looking at less than 30% in full time employment. As this scenario continues to work itself out, I wonder whether organizations are ready for a disruption like this. Is your organization optimized for a contract labor force? Will you be able to compete with little or no full time employees?

Scenarios like these are not meant to scare but to create a thought space of solutions. It is much like a disaster recovery plan for the organizations strategy. While it is great to have an idea of our preferred future, we must also consider those things that might get in the way. Sometimes these disruptions create a better future while other scenarios create more difficult options. Thinking through these possibilities ahead of a disruption is always better than trying to put out a fire while it is happening.


Dr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching and serves as Adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. He can be reached at

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