Disruption is Inevitable


Today we welcome a guest post by author Bob Johansen. You can read more about his distinguished career at the end of this post. I’ve just finished reading his newest book, The New Leadership Literacies, a compelling book that challenges us as leaders to be ready for a future where centralized leadership models will no longer thrive. Enjoy! 


For more than 40 years, I’ve been focusing my life ten years ahead at a think tank called Institute for the Future (IFTF) in the midst of Silicon Valley. When I first arrived in 1973, the Institute was up in the hills on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, near Highway 280, barely on the inland side of the San Andreas Fault. I used to joke that, when The Big One hits California, Institute for the Future will have a shoreline view.


IFTF was the first tenant in a new cluster of buildings built by Tom Ford, a former development officer from Stanford, who had the foresight to buy a parcel of land right across the road from Stanford University property. He attracted a new kind of tenant in addition to our little think tank, people who would come to be called venture capitalists. Ford Land Company became a big success, venture capital boomed, and Sand Hill Road is now known as the Wall Street of Silicon Valley.


The Silicon Valley “Wall Street” is beauty on the edge disaster. Earthquakes loom. So do droughts, wildfires, and mudslides. Earthquakes are omnipresent here in Silicon Valley, both geological earthquakes and metaphorical earthquakes of innovation.


I believe that the everyday juxtaposition of awesome beauty and certain disruption is an important reason of why Silicon Valley is so innovative. Silicon Valley innovates at least partly because of the inevitability that our beautiful world will be disrupted.


Silicon Valley disruptors have bloomed, seeded, re-bloomed, and re-seeded in continuing harvests of innovation—all under the certainty of looming disaster. If every day could be the eve of destruction, having the innovation jim-jams is just part of your daily life. Disrupted everything is easy to imagine if you live in Silicon Valley. In other parts of the world, it may seem easier to fend off the outside world and maintain control through centralized organizations.


There are two very powerful and very distributed clusters of disruptors in Silicon Valley: one obsessed by visions about how to make the world a better place, the other obsessed by extreme greed.


These two values-linked loose social networks don’t particularly like each other, but the world changers and the greedy people know they need each other.


If the many colorful visions of how to improve the world were not so compelling and so credible, Silicon Valley would never work. The world has been changed already by Silicon Valley and there is strong reason to believe that it will change the world again and again in the future. Silicon Valley will make a disrupted everything future possible.


About Bob Johansen:

Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow with the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. For more than 30 years, Bob has helped organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future, including corporations such as P&G, Walmart, McKinsey, United Rentals, and Syngenta, as well as major universities and nonprofits.

The author or co-author of ten books, Bob is a frequent keynote speaker. His best-selling book Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present was selected as one of the top business books of 2007. His latest book is The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything discusses five new leadership literacies—combinations of disciplines, practices, and worldviews—that will be needed to thrive in a VUCA world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. 


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