Are leaders blind to new, disruptive threats?

I was speaking at a conference on Disruption recently and one of the hot debates was how and why did the leaders from say Kodak for example not see the looming forces of disruption coming.

It seems so obvious in retrospect that they (i.e. the Kodak leaders) could have reacted far differently than they did. And possibly saved the company.

You could also say the same thing about the taxi, music, book and hotel industry.

Why do leaders miss the disruption gorilla.

One possible reason is simply the speed of change today.

You blink and you can miss a major threat.

But perhaps there is another reason.

They just did not see it coming!

In a famous experiment in the 1990’s conducted by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University asked students to count the number of passes a group made in a short period of time.

During the session a person dressed in a Gorilla suit walks in between the people passing the ball.

After watching the video the subjects are asked if they noticed anything out of the ordinary taking place.

In most groups, 50% of the subjects did not report seeing the gorilla

The researchers call this inattentional blindness.

People did not see what was right in front of them because they were paying attention to something else (i.e. the number of passes of the ball).

Now let’s think about the implications for disruption.

The leaders of the established companies are often very busy concentrating on their existing goals, objectives market share, current processes and sales etc to notice the disruption gorilla that is about to enter their industry.

They suffer from a collective blindness.

This is why it is vital for leaders to use internal and external disruptors to challenge and open the leaders eyes to new threats and opportunities.

It must be done because many leaders simply are unable to see what is round the corner because they are so preoccupied with what is in front of them.

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