The speed of change we are experiencing in technology and data is unprecedented. We've gone from websites, to smartphones, to smartwatches in less than a decade. When I was in college, we had no email, and I wonder how we ever made plans or found each other on campus. A world that transformed with the dawn of the digital age is transforming again with the sharing economy and the internet of things. Soon my refrigerator will be my personal assistant. I just hope it doesn't give me the cold shoulder.

Disruption is the new normal. How can you remain relevant in 2020? Follow these three rules for thriving ... or at least remaining more impactful than an old box of VHS tapes.

1. Innovate or die.

Change is painful. And it gets more difficult the larger your team grows. Many companies today put innovation in a neat little box outside of their core business. Then, innovators struggle to drag these companies kicking and screaming into their vision for change. To thrive in the age of near constant disruption, leaders must foster an innovation mindset in their company cultures and make innovation part of their DNA. Google does this by allowing employees to spend 20 percent of their time to innovate in personal areas of interest. An avid reader, my college roommate who is a UX designer, Addy Beavers, used this time to pursue her passion--designing a better way to discover books and making reading a more social experience in Google Play. It wasn't remotely related to her then job at Google on the Ads team, but she felt compelled to help Google take reading to another level. She took her ideas and designs to Google Play and was hired a few weeks later when the lead designer left the team. Now, thanks to Addy, Google's innovative navigation for nonfiction has dramatically improved book discovery. If one person on a 20 percent project can help Google Play be named one of the Best Apps by CIO Magazine, imagine the impact an entire company can have if everyone were motivated and rewarded for innovative thinking and action. Without a culture of change and improvement, companies that have the greatest market share today will be the Borders and Blockbusters of tomorrow.

2. Build adaptability, flexibility, and creativity.

Employees who want to thrive in a world of frequent business model disruption will need to build new competencies. They'll need to handle change with flexibility, be highly adaptable, and hone their capacity for creative thinking. But can we teach ourselves new tricks? The latest research in neuroplasticity shows that we can build incredible new competencies, simply through practice. Just like writing a piece of software for our computers, we can write new skills into our brains. We can grow more gray matter and multiply branches of neurons. When Tanya Bashaw came to our company, AnswerLab, as a project coordinator five years ago, she was reserved and struggled in front of groups. Fast forward five years, Tanya now is our senior marketing manager. She frequently stands in front of the entire company presenting on new initiatives and is one of the most articulate people in our company. Public speaking wasn't an innate part of Tanya's DNA, but she made it so over time. Everyone has enormous capacity for change and the ability to build the competencies needed in a world of near constant change.

3. Iterate, iterate, iterate.

How can I reiterate this? Innovation succeeds in an environment of constant experimentation. Research, design, test, improve (rinse and repeat)--the primary process of agile product development will become core to any new business initiative by 2020. We can no longer spend months planning for change, creating process constraints, and hoping for the best on the other side. We must create organizational flexibility, frequent evaluation, and the ability to refine and change course on a dime. As researchers at AnswerLab, we love process and systems but have realized they may be slowing us down. Recently, our business development team needed more customer stories and insights to support sales efforts but found our annual process to develop new case studies limited in scope, and in some cases, outdated in world of constant innovation. So we started applying an agile mindset to preparing for customer meetings. We rapidly assembled teams for brainstorming sessions on clients' pain points, and followed design sprints for developing our talking points and in-person presentations. The results have been dramatic. Our sales pipeline has grown to the largest ever in the company's history, as clients more immediately are seeing the connection between their challenges and our experience and expertise. Bringing an agile development mindset will be crucial to everything you do as the pace of innovation continues to explode.

Want to avoid looking like Disney's Epcot in 2020? Start now by building a culture that supports and rewards innovation, by hiring and training employees for the ability to adapt, and by replacing limiting processes with rapid iteration.

Published on: Mar 10, 2015
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