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Disruptive Innovation and the Language of Business: How an MBA Can Help Translate Big Changes into B

Bridgette Chambers, M.B.A.

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Disruptive Innovation and the Language of Business: How an MBA Can Help Translate Big Changes into Big Wins
by Bridgette Chambers, M.B.A., president and COO of Nite Group

On Martin Luther King Day a few weeks ago, Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, tweeted that "Dr. King understood that purposeful disruption is essential to the change that the most needy require. Stop being afraid to be disliked."

Dr. Perry was discussing purposeful disruption in the context of secondary school education, a subject he knows a great deal about. His disruptive innovations at Capital Prep have created such a culture of success that the school website boasts that "100% of its predominantly low-income, minority, first generation high school students" have gone on to four-year colleges every year since the school's first class graduated in 1988. Impressive results by any measure. But his secondary messages are just as relevant, particularly for those considering an MBA to advance their career: 1) Change is hard and people's resistance to it can create tension and bad feelings; and 2) Changing any game requires thoughtful and purposeful disruption and innovation, along with a clear compelling vision and strong leadership.

As a turnaround expert with more than 20 years' experience transforming various technology and management consultancy organizations, I share a similar view of purposeful disruption and innovation. To me, it is about never being satisfied with where you are and thus always shaking the stability associated with the status quo in order to keep things moving in a forward - yet unique (and profitable) - direction.

But anyone who has ever rattled the cages of change knows that before you seek to change the status quo, you need to step outside your own front door, and make sure you both see and understand the entire landscape that will be impacted positively or negatively by the innovations you introduce. You must also anticipate and develop a plan for dealing with the fallout that comes from people's natural resistance to change.

Disruptive Innovations - a Primer
Author and co-founder of Rose Park Advisors, Whitney Johnson, describes disruptive innovations as those companies and ideas that "upend markets by doing something truly different - they see a need, an empty space waiting to be filled, and they dare to create something for which a market may not yet exist." As technologists, we'd all love to be that company, or the person behind those ideas. But you can't fill a technology void or effectively deliver new products if you don't understand the business landscape in the first place. That's where an MBA becomes critical, because an MBA is going to make you better no matter how technical you plan to stay in your career.

Think of it this way: the career pinnacle for many technologists is a CIO position. But recent trends in both technology and business have created a deep divide within those ranks and essentially now there are two types of CIOs in the world. There are those who are retiring or being forced out because they did not insert themselves appropriately into the business. And there are those who are growing and excelling because they understand how to use disruptive innovations and smart platforms to facilitate value and how to guide their companies through big change. They simply don't teach those skills in undergraduate school.

In order to be in that second group, you have to understand how to construct value today, forecast value for tomorrow, and protect your firm, your people, and your future at the same time. This is precisely why I pursued my MBA at Texas A&M. I had reached a point in my career where I realized that I could no longer replicate my success --- or consistently avoid failures --- without leadership guidance and deep immersion in the language of business, risk, innovation and change.

Perhaps it's the same for you. You may be the technologist in your company, or the finance person, or the operations person, but at the end of the day, the common denominator that binds these diverse skillsets together is the collective work you do every day on behalf of the customers and the shareholders. If you don't understand the business, where risk is, or where value comes from - you'll never be able to move past your current situation. If career growth is what you truly want - you must understand how a company sustains competitive advantage. You must understand how to measure profitability, efficiency, valuation, productivity and risk. And you must understand how to do all of this plus get (and keep) the right people on the bus in a volatile, changing market.

In other words, you simply can't be a soldier in this revolution if you can't talk innovation, risk and value - and do it in a way that creates enthusiastic supporters out of otherwise detractors. And because value is a language of business and not of technology, an MBA from the right school can teach you how to not only be a formidable steward of innovation, but also how to speak the right language, how to manage the associated risk and how to enlist, engage and inspire your people to follow your lead.

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