Why High-Risk and Regulated Environments need Disruptors too


Disruptors’ is a term that’s being used increasingly in business, but what sort of people are they and why are they good for business?

Disruptors actively promote or seek out change, they consider approaches that others may not and use their influence to encourage adaptation and flexibility.  They are innovators.  So, would a Disruptor, with natural tendencies towards innovative behaviours, be a help or a hindrance in risk-averse, highly regulated or controlled industries such as Healthcare, Financial Services or Manufacturing? Such typically bureaucratic environments with requirements for safety, quality and compliance don’t appear to outwardly lend themselves – or even welcome – innovation. But is this really the case?

For all industries – high-risk and highly regulated included – change is a requirement for improvement.  And innovation is critical to change. Despite being traditionally considered better suited to creative industries, Disruptors and Innovators may be valuable assets in these environments. In Manufacturing, for example, where organisations are governed by strict rules and procedures for both safety and quality, there is a need to find ways within very tight parameters to enhance products and processes to maintain market position. International manufacturing organisation, Saint-Gobain, recognises this, and places innovation at the heart of their strategy to ensure they can compete successfully, explore new horizons and recruit top talent.

Similarly, in the healthcare sector, where protocols and processes have a critical role in safeguarding personal data and protecting the safety of patients, it would be easy to dismiss Disruptors as more trouble than they’re worth.  However, there is also an increasing need ‘to do more with less’. This is not simply a response to the squeeze on funding, but also to the speed of change in patient needs, advances in technology and treatment and changes in the healthcare workforce.  For GPs in particular, the expansion of the role has resulted in the need for a more entrepreneurial mind-set, where individuals are able to ‘think differently’ about how to balance competing demands and constrained resources against the desire to provide the best possible levels of patient care[i].

In Ireland, the national Spark Innovation Programme aims to encourage, support and recognise innovation in doctors. The programme seeks to contribute to improving how doctors are trained and how patient care is delivered. There is recognition that the typically ‘perfectionist’ tendencies of high achieving medical professionals aligns with the strict regulatory compliance, but that future training and development also needs to account for those with a capacity for balancing this with a more ‘disruptive’ outlook.   Individuals with the capacity for ‘disrupting’ the status quo for the benefit of enhanced patient care will be invaluable in pushing the boundaries of the current health system for better outcomes.

So, how can organisations move towards a culture more inclusive of innovation and harness the important skills of a Disruptor?

Despite the general acceptance that innovation is vital in today’s market – even in industries where it may not have been previously obvious – many organisations are not clear on how to successfully identify Disruptors or harness innovation potential within their employees. So, where do they start?

Starting at the beginning is key. Incorporate the essential criteria needed to be a Disruptor into recruitment processes and use assessment methods to establish if a candidate has the potential to innovate in a role, even if they have no demonstrable experience yet. There is generally consensus that personality traits such as openness to experience predict innovation behaviours. Some measures take a more integrative approach, drawing on a range of traits and behaviours. One of these is the Innovation Potential Indicator (IPI).  Developed by Professor Fiona Patterson and supported by years of research, this uses an integrative approach to assessing innovation behaviours. Drawing on a range of traits and behaviours, the IPI allows an individual to understand their preferences on seven different scales that all contribute to innovative behaviours, including creative problem solving, intellectual curiosity and emotional resilience.

Continued investment is crucial. Businesses can support the development of their existing workforce by increasing employees’ awareness of their own innovation potential, both as individuals and as a team or department to generate a longer-term culture of innovation. For example, having introduced ‘innovation’ as a key strategic driver without necessarily being clear what this looked like in practice, one large manufacturer in the UK invested in understanding the innovation profiles of individuals in their leadership team, with a view to role-modelling desired behaviours and informing their strategic plans.

Don’t forget the broader organisational issues. Reinforce a climate that promotes ‘learning from mistakes’ over a ‘blame culture’ and encourage leaders to motivate teams to try new things, without a penalty when things don’t work out quite as hoped. Research has found that innovative organisations understand that failures are a necessity (in as much as 90% of the time) so long as the learning comes from small risk experiments[ii]. Finally, consider how ‘innovation’ at work could be monitored, measured and rewarded – bearing in mind that evidence suggests that high-powered rewards are no better than low-powered incentives at producing radical innovations, and low-powered rewards can actually provide a more manageable stream of ideas[iii].

If you’re interested in exploring the innovation potential of your employees and teams, or would like to discuss initiatives for enhancing the culture of innovation within your organisation, we’d love to hear from you.  Click here to get in touch.

[i] Patterson, F., Tavabie, A., Denney, M., Kerrin, M., Ashworth, V., Koczwara, A., and MacLeod, S. (2013). A new competency model for general practice: implications for selection, training, and careers. British Journal of General Practice, May 2013, 1-7.

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/darden/2012/06/20/creating-an-innovation-culture-accepting-failure-is-necessary/#423ceb8754e0

[iii] https://hbr.org/2014/06/dont-offer-employees-big-rewards-for-innovation