Disruptive innovation has taken aim at your business. Pundits have prescribed one response; develop a disruption of your own before it’s too late to be part of the new growth each disruption creates. But how can an enterprise achieve a level of innovation that will allow it to reap the rewards of a disruptive competitive advantage? Breakthrough innovation requires a board with hands-on experience in disruptive technologies. Only such a board can direct a company through times when continuous improvement, speed of change, and the breadth of an organization’s ambitions matter more than ever.

Given the disruptive nature of emergent technologies, such as social and mobile, no business can continue to operate unless its board of directors is stocked with visionary stewards prepared to direct the next disruption, and the next one after that the organization boards they sit on will face.

Digital technologies are converging, drastically changing even the most staid industries. Social and mobile platforms, cloud computing, data analytics from simple CRM to Big Data—each creates an inflection point that demands a prepared response. Together, they will place more demand than ever on the board’s ability to understand how core strengths can be leveraged to reach new markets or serve existing ones with new offerings.

New business models are emerging. And yet, too many enterprises are still governing with the same board of directors, and the same mission, vision and values, that guided them in decades past. Corporate governance demands leadership, not mere management. The board is charged with supporting the performance of the chief executive, as well as establishing broad policies and objectives that determine the organization’s direction over time. Today’s market conditions demand agility—which places responsibility on the corporate board to develop an enterprise that can adapt and innovate in the midst of disruption.

Your board may be ill prepared for this new paradigm. Unfortunately, too many boards today are “male, pale and stale.” Nominating committees have failed to introduce diversity that would bring younger, tech-savvy directors into the mix. Marc Prensky coined the term “Digital Natives” in his 2001 book Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, in which he distinguished between people who have been interacting with technology since youth from older generations who learned digital technology later in life. If board members don’t use the technologies that are disrupting business-as-usual, they are unlikely to contribute value in the search for successful responses to these challenging conditions. Anywhere disruptive technologies are impacting business strategy, Digital Natives belong in the boardroom.

I’ve seen too many boards try to fill the gap in understanding of digital technology by bringing in a subject matter expert to present at a board meeting for an hour or two; in my opinion, that solution is ineffective. It may teach vocabulary but it fails to create expertise.

To bring digital expertise to your board, what qualities should your nominating committee seek? Experience—either as leaders or directors—at companies where digital technology matters. Recruit your talent from firms where digital contributes the lion’s share of revenue, or where digital channels are crucial to business processes, or where the company has transformed its industry through social and mobile strategies. Those are going to digital leaders who can bring transformative insights to your board.

You need people around your table who bring the expertise to meet tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities, not yesterday’s. The challenge for too many boards is that professional colleagues become unwilling to take a contrarian position. Your longstanding directors take pride in the accomplishments they’ve seen during their service; they enjoy the fellowship of their colleagues; but do they challenge the status quo? “Back in the day” or “the way we used to do it” are clear indicators that its time for a fresh lens. Boards need a balance of seasoned experience and diversity of thought. To achieve that diversity, recruit younger Digital Natives to your board of directors.

There are varieties among the Digital Natives who could become your next generation of leaders, and your board will benefit if you include a mix. Have they served disruptor companies that are actually driving change through innovative technology? Or do they come from transformer companies that bring successful digital applications to traditional industries, such as consumer-packaged goods? Do they approach digital from a purely technological perspective—interested in how it works as much as how it transforms existing industries or creates new ones? Each variety of Digital Native will bring a unique perspective, and that difference will strengthen your board.

Research has shown that diversity on teams improves decision-making, breaks up groupthink, and produces more efficient problem solving. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even have to be a great degree of diversity—even a difference as small as adding an individual from a different part of the country can create fresh thinking on a stale team. Digital directors, who bring experience in emerging growth sectors, can help develop innovation capacity in the enterprises they lead. Imagine what bringing a few Digital Natives to your board of directors could do for your organization’s agility.

Your Digital Native board members bring not just relevant experience in disruptor industries and technologies. The Digital Natives bring with them a portfolio of digital relationships, relevant to the key questions and options that emerge at critical junctures as your organization evolves. In the decades I’ve been researching, speaking and writing about Relationship Economics, I’ve learned that your success depends on the diversity and the quality of your portfolio of relationships. Yet most of us don’t invest enough time building, nurturing and quantifying the strategic relationships we need to achieve success. Adding Digital Natives to your board—with the web of contacts they bring—will bring depth and breadth to your board leadership bench.

Bring in Digital Native directors with experience in disruptive technologies—who can contribute without being disruptive. You may need to teach them some fiduciary skills as they take their seats next to the seasoned executives to whom you trust your governance. In return, you can count on increasing your organization’s capacity to adapt and innovate, with speed, at scale.

Nour takeaways:

  1. Your board deserves true Digital Native directors at the table to lead enterprise innovation.
  2. If you have no seats open for Digital Natives, you’re probably suffering “male, pale and stale” syndrome—and need the fresh lens a more diverse board will create.
  3. Digital Native directors bring a portfolio of digital relationships that will contribute to the board’s effectiveness and your enterprise’s overall performance.
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn