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Identifying and leveraging disruptive talent to deliver business results

Paolo Moscuzza is a Chartered Psychologist with over 18 years’ experience of assessing and developing the capability of leaders. He currently heads up OE Cam’s Leadership Development Practice where he has developed ‘disruptive talent’ programmes for some of the world’s leading organisations. In this article, Paolo introduces the ‘disruptive talent’ concept and how it can help businesses to innovate, open up new markets and boost profitability.

Facebook, Uber and the iPad are all great examples of products and services that quickly disrupted their respective existing markets, boosting the fortunes of the organisations that introduced them and, in some instances, destroying their competitors.

This kind of disruptive innovation comes from the unusual minds of those we at OE Cam call ‘Disruptive Talent’.  These are the individuals who see the world differently, finding new ways of doing things while rejecting the ‘tried and true’ solutions. 

Many organisations need disruptive talent to deliver faster, better and more innovatively with the level and type of disruptive talent required varying between different organisations. The benefits of ‘disruptive talent’ to organisations are tremendous, with operations streamlined and new routes to market opened.

Indeed, research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) on ‘The Behavioural Science of Recruitment and Selection’ highlights the importance of considering ‘anti-fit’; with recruitment practitioners overcoming ‘status-quo bias’ to find candidates that have unique skills but may not ‘fit’ with the existing culture at organisations¹.

However, it is common for organisations to struggle to recruit and get the best out of ‘disruptive talent’. Individuals who challenge the status quo and spot commercial opportunities that no-one else sees will often see many other things differently and have been known to insensitively tread on the toes of colleagues. Hence they become labelled as ‘difficult’, ‘insensitive’, ‘a pain’ and their ability to influence the business is affected. 

Therefore, organisations seeking to harness such ability, must be careful that they have recruited ‘disruptive talent’, not just those who are plain disruptive, while providing the right support to ensure they can achieve what they have been brought in to do.

OE Cam has been supporting businesses that have identified the opportunity to quickly embrace or create products, services and technologies that are radically different from their core business. The support has ranged from assessing individuals to see whether they have the potential to be ‘disruptive talent’ for the business to full blown ‘disruptive talent programmes’.

For example, AB Agri (a division of the FTSE 100 organisation Associated British Foods) invested in a series of new technologies to support their ambition to double profitability. It termed the project teams around these technologies ‘New Ventures’. In order to think sufficiently differently it needed individuals classified as ‘disruptive talent’ to lead ‘New Ventures’ supported by teams of complementary individuals (in terms of skills and personalities) to deliver success.  In this instance we worked with AB Agri to put together teams and identify the conditions required to increase successes and manage the risks associated with ‘disruptive talent’.

Identifying or recruiting ‘disruptive talent’ requires a tailored assessment strategy because with such unique individuals the conventional approach can misfire.  Traditional psychometrics seek to identify predictable behaviour, mitigating the risks associated with employment by ascertaining as best as possible how an individual will perform. 

However, those with ‘disruptive talent’ can often act in ways that for the average candidate would suggest their unsuitability for the organisation. For example, a gifted innovator may be rejected because their profile suggests they will not perform well on many conventional measures of success, such as teamwork, empathy and diplomacy.

When identifying ‘disruptive talent’, an individual’s past performance and track record might reveal some potential to be ‘disruptive talent’. However, in-depth personality assessments and deep dive psychological assessments will uncover more about what motivates each applicant and accurately predict future behaviour. 

OE Cam’s own research has found key indicators commonplace amongst successful disruptive talent, so identifying these in potential leaders helps make choosing the right people easier.  It is for this reason that we have tailored our assessment approach to single out exactly that type of talent. 

Once the ‘disruptive talent’ has been identified we work through a series of steps to create the conditions for success.  This covers a range of areas, from getting the right team behind the ‘disruptive talent’ to developing an effective governance model.

The motivations for trying to find ‘disruptive talent’ and then implementing a ‘disruptive talent’ programme can differ.  Some organisations wait until they have to change because their business is being decimated by competitors and others proactively want to boost profitability.  Either way, identifying, focussing and supporting ‘disruptive talent’ is increasingly proving to be a powerful way to grow a business.

For more information about OE Cam and its ‘disruptive talent’ programmes visit

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