The Sources of Disruption Every Company Should Monitor: A Live Session at Disruption 2020

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Disruption emerges from 11 sources of change.

Editor’s note: A version of this summary was provided by getAbstract.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, many decision makers are feeling exposed — and wondering whether their organizations could have been better prepared. Amy Webb, the founder of the Future Today Institute, offers a framework for threat monitoring that can alert decision makers to disruption long before it strikes, even when the disruption emerges from unexpected quarters. Webb makes practical recommendations for moving forward and identifying opportunities in times of deep uncertainty.

Decision makers at every company should monitor 11 sources of macro change for signs of impending disruption: wealth distribution, education, infrastructure, government, geopolitics, economy, public health, demographics, environment, technology, and media and telecommunications, Webb argues.

Usually, people limit the scope of their monitoring to their own industry — but the interconnectedness of today’s world means that change can arise from any of the 11 sources and affect an organization. All 11 have equal importance. Give priority to examining the source you feel bears the least connection to your organization. It may yield important insights, because you probably haven’t given it careful attention.

For deeper insights, observe where changes intersect. Combining the sources of disruption can help you see interconnections. For example, consider infrastructure and geopolitics together and look at China’s Belt and Road Initiative. How might the coronavirus pandemic affect Beijing’s interest in investing massively in Africa or Latin America? Questions like this can begin to shed light on ways the global economy might shift as a result of the pandemic. Take a wide view of each source of change. Infrastructure means more than roads and bridges; it also means supply chain routes, technology, and surveillance.

Futurists use the question “What would it take for X to be Y?” as a tool to envision potential developments. For instance, given that students are learning at home during the pandemic, many people assume that distance learning will be more commonplace in the future. To move beyond presumption, ask what would have to happen for that to occur: What infrastructure, technology, and governance would need to be in place?

Looking at these connections will also allow you to extrapolate trends from actual developments and reflect on the second-order consequences of current events: How will the current education gap affect the future workforce? Will the lessons people are learning about climate change during the pandemic make a lasting impact?

Takeaways from the session:

  • All disruption emerges from 11 sources of change.
  • For deeper insights, observe where changes intersect.
  • In times of dramatic change, don’t become paralyzed. Look for opportunities.


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