Future proof:

Building industry disruptive capability

If ever there was a time to rethink the future, that time is now. Rethinking how industries innovate, create value and competitive advantage is essential to maintaining relevance in an environment where the leading hotelier neither owns nor manages any property, the leading transportation company owns no cars, and the leading social media platform is free to over 2 billion subscribers worldwide. While innovation doesn’t necessarily transform an industry overnight, failure to build disruptive capability and a collaborative, innovative infrastructure to enable outside the box thinking, irrelevance may come quicker than expected.

Take for example Britannica, a 250 year old printing company that derived market value from a multivolume set of encyclopaedias that was revised every 4 or 5 years and sold for nearly $2200 at its peak in the 1990s. CD-ROM technology, considered to be an irrelevant innovation and a toy by some within the leadership team, unceremoniously replaced Britannica’s market value with a technology that sold for $50 at a cost of $1.50 to manufacture. Today, far more comprehensive encyclopedic information is available from multiple sources, updated in real time, and its market value is free on the internet. A seemingly unrelated disruptive technology changed how people search for and leverage information while at the same time, an entire industry failed to think outside its own box. What the printing industry didn’t see coming at the time wasn’t technology. To the contrary, the industry and in particular, Britannica’s downfall was complacency; a self-satisfying contentment with the status quo. Britannica held a systemic, inwardly focused view of itself with too little attention on innovation and too much time contemplating the right time to participate in a transforming industry.

“Leading industry innovation doesn’t come from creating new ways to think inside your own box; innovation evolves from unleashing the full and boundaryless potential and unique value of collective human capabilities.”

In a similar vein, the vast majority of bricks and mortar industries are built on maintaining order, managing risk based on certainty and developing systems defined by the rigidity of their consequences. As a result, known predictable outcomes outweigh unknown innovative success. Comparatively, forward thinking industries derive innovation potential from building capability to manage ambiguity, and simultaneously encourage both failure and resilience alongside technical skills and competencies. Disrupting traditional models of learning and development, and deploying inimitable collective capability creates boundaryless potential for innovation. From apprenticeship to employment, rethinking a strategic, inclusive and industry-wide approach to building disruptive capability is a sustainable pathway to future proofing innovation.


“Future proofing is a deliberative, collaborative process of innovation, redefining future parameters, and building forward thinking infrastructure to enable boundaryless potential derived from collective human capabilities that cannot be copied or imitated.”

The deliberative process of future proofing is initiated by either loosely coupled strategic partnerships or industry consortiums with defined contributors through professional associations, affiliate organisations or higher education institutions. The purpose of partnerships and consortiums is to regularly and deliberatively engage industry manufacturers, business leaders, customers and educators to disrupt, innovate and execute within or outside the industry. Industry and related data, thought leadership, and customer trends and insights define and validate the industry’s current state while serving as a platform on which to discuss, debate and breakthrough industry potential. Higher education practitioners, working alongside industry leaders, decipher and build the necessary competency and developmental framework, and integrate key innovative principles into curriculum that reaffirm out of box thinking.

As a starting point, the old school model of apprenticeship is not fit for the purpose of building disruptive capability. Engagement between the industry, businesses and the process of talent development and deployment is outdated and offers a backwards view of the innovative capability required for the future. The current apprenticeship model builds and deploys capability through passive, independent and narrow industry participation and fails to future proof industry talent development needed to sustain a robust growth trajectory and ensure competitive advantage. In today’s dynamic and hyper-competitive environment, disruptive capability, once thought to be a Utopian, far-off innovative destination, is now a mandatory everyday capability for safe guarding current, growing new and building the potential capacity to disrupt unknown or unanticipated markets in the future.

“Contrary to the apprenticeship model of building capability around command, control and predictability, disruptive capability requires managing the unknown, embracing a lack of control and unpredictability, encouraging failure and building resilience as everyday rules of engagement versus its alternative.”

The apprenticeship of the future builds capability through incubator clusters, sharing and applying learnings, and a collaborative view of talent potential through strategic partnerships between industry affiliates, business owners and higher education practitioners.

Apprenticeships, defined as a consortium of manufactures, business leaders and educators, partner across an industry to:
• Build innovative, best-principle competencies and develop curriculum to realise innovative pull-through ideas, forward thinking aspirations and industry capability outcomes
• Develop capability frameworks that demonstrate and execute innovative mastery requirements (in addition to technical skill mastery)
• Integrate experiential learning and multi-placement time-blocks that combine a period of classroom learning and practical experience (learn, apply, observe and reflect principles) through ongoing apprentice, practicum or internship opportunities leading to employment.

A key outcome of the consortium is the development of a capability pipeline. As an outgrowth of the experiential learning principles of learn, apply, observe and reflect, the speed of capability development is accelerated.

As a result of engaging learning self-discovery, application of knowledge, continuous improvement observations and reflection, achievement toward mastery is tangible and immediate.

As the makeup of consortium participants suggests, manufactures, business leaders and educators develop an integrated process of capability development through a series of strategic learning and development touchpoints. Touchpoints, including incubator clusters – a market solution driven pop-up focused on integrating technologies to create disruptive innovation, apprentice, practicum and internships – form a round-robin of participant development and talent pool assessment. The talent pool generates the capability pipeline from which participants who have demonstrated learning and innovation potential can be placed into permanent employment roles.

In a dynamic and hyper-competitive marketplace, rethinking how industries innovate, create value and competitive advantage is essential to maintaining relevance. While a complacent Britannica chose to leverage its 250 year old encyclopaedias into the future, a disruptive technology entered the market, innovated around them and left them holding a very outdated book bag.
Innovation is essential to future proofing. However, building a forward thinking infrastructure through consortiums that foster experiential learning and mastery is tantamount to enabling the boundaryless potential of human capability.

Building disruptive capability isn’t just focused on technology. It’s also building capability to disrupt old ways of learning, opening up rigid systems of command and control, facilitating an environment that engages and shares new ideas.

Building disruptive capability encourages failure and develops resilience, and at every opportunity, thinks outside the box.

Dr Wesley Payne McClendon is a global HR executive, thought leader and executive director, McClendon Research Group, Inc (MRG). Wes can be reached by e-mail at wpm@nullmrg-inc.org, on Twitter @BLKDOC or #AskDrWes. His book, Strategy, People and Performance, is available at Amazon, Bookworld, HolisticPage, Booktopia and EmporiumBooks.