I heard some interesting thoughts this week about disruption, and transformation, and innovation.

And man, if there are three business cliches that are more, well, cliche-y than those, I’d love to hear them. We’re all being disrupted, which means we have to transform, which requires innovation, and yada yada yada. We’ve heard variations on this stuff time and time again.

But some thoughts on these subjects from a trusted friend ring true, and I want to share them with you.

That friend is Pascal Finette. Pascal is co-founder at be radical, which teaches leaders how to create new business models for success, how to positively embrace disruption, and how to prepare their people to be future-forward and future-ready.

He is also a former chair for Entrepreneurship and Open Innovation at Singularity University, which is a global learning and innovation community that uses exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. He previously held leadership positions at Google, Mozilla, and eBay … so yeah, pretty smart guy. I interviewed him a few years ago, and you can hear that conversation here.

He’s also a longtime collaborator on innovation with the folks at CPA.com, and he keynoted CPA.com’s 2021 Digital CPA conference with a jolt to my thinking about these tired old cliches of disruption, transformation, and innovation.

Here’s what he said.

“Stop talking about disruption,” he told the DCPA crowd, “and start thinking of it as transformation instead.”

Which sounds easy enough.

“Transformation isn’t complicated. It’s just hard,” Finette said. “It’s common sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s common practice.”

The question in my mind was this: What does leadership look like in an age of disruption and transformation? How do leaders get their teams to buy in to groundbreaking new practices?

According to Finette, it looks a little like this.

That’s what’s known as a murmuration. Starlings, in this case. It looks chaotic … random to the extreme.

The folks at PLOS Computational Biology describe it as the “remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information.”

That about describes our world, doesn’t it?

Starlings don’t have a strategy. But they feel the movements of those around them, and they instinctively know where they need to go now … and where they will need to go next. And they have an intimate knowledge of the environment around them.

These characteristics help them make order out of chaos.

“Leading through innovation requires us to invert our organizational structures,” Finette said. “Information must flow up, not down. We have to ask ourselves, ‘What do we know about our customers, on the ground?’ And who’s closer to them than the folks on the ground? A leader’s role in this environment is solely to give direction.”

We’re all starlings, feeding off the directions of those around us, and the environment that drives us forward.

Our direction comes not from above, but from around.

“The old way,” Finette said, “was to get the strategy right. The new way is to get the direction right.”

That requires an awareness of what’s happening, and what others are doing, and where we should be going … not now, but next.

In other words, screw the cliches.

Be aware, and anticipate.

It’s not complicated. It’s just hard.

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