If the 20th century was the period of the fastest technological change in the history of mankind, the beginning of the 21st century has only seen an acceleration of this revolutionary pace. The emergence of digital technologies and the internet has thrown companies - and societies - headlong into an ever-shifting landscape that, far from showing any sign of abating, continues to quicken with phenomena such as robotics, human enhancement and AI.

This on-going tide of disruption is a challenge faced by all businesses. Visionary leaders must be aware of competition and change on the horizon, to try to identify the risks and opportunities these pose to their business. At the next in our series of ‘Leadership of, and for, the Future’ in London we address exactly these issues.

The need for visionary leaders to be adaptable and ready for further change, as well as to help their teams be comfortable with transformation, is paramount to business survival and success. This principle of agile strategy originated in the software industry and describes an organisation or person always ready to adapt, learn and change at any moment.

The need to be aware of changes in technology, or preparing for changes in other areas such as consumer demand, legal frameworks and the environment, is now a fact of business life - but the appetite in some industries is greater than in others.

The marketing industry in the noughties grasped the digital nettle with enthusiasm. They quickly exploited the possibilities of data mining to understand more about their customers and their journeys; about touch points and how to better convert these experiences into sales. Digital marketeers rapidly understood the power of the information that the internet had provided, and the world’s biggest brands have come to rely on these insights to engage with their customers.

The publishing industry, however, is still in something of a conundrum. It is wrestling with how to create a profitable model in its rapidly changing digital landscape: how to fund content remains an ongoing debate. The big beasts of the British press are still searching for a model that works, but none seem to be, currently, providing all the answers. The Times uses a firewall to charge subscribers to read content online; The Daily Telegraph offers a freemium approach whereby the majority of its online output is free, alongside a premium subscription service which offers exclusive, members-only content; and The Guardian has introduced direct requests for voluntary contributions to maintain its open journalism ethos. 

While digital publishers such as BuzzFeed and Huffington Post claim to have successful models, their recent redundancies indicate otherwise. It remains to be seen whether these brands will still be here in five years time.

Spotting trends and creating a business that can exploit these shifts is a key task for today’s leader - as competition in a culture of rapid change can appear from almost out of nowhere. Disruptors can move as quickly and adroitly as an Amazon product-picking robot. Traditional estate agents are watching very closely as spritely competitors such as Purple Bricks and Yopa – who charge a fixed fee rather than a percentage of the property sale price - turn the market on its head.

Jeff Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield, co-founders of direct-to-consumer e-commerce shaving business ‘Harry’s’, launched an online shaving club in competition with the razor giants Gillette and Schick, who had a century-old grip on the $17 billion men's grooming industry. Raider and Katz-Mayfield wanted to create a better-designed razor and shaving experience for a reasonable price. “The advent of Dollar Shave Club and Harry's has got to be the most significant disruption to this space since the electric razor,” said e-commerce analyst Ken Cassar.

Similarly, shake-ups in the taxi and food delivery industries have seen companies such as Uber and Deliveroo, amid mixed publicity, reap rewards. Failure to act in an ever-changing market place will lead to extinction. To stay ahead it is essential not to be so pleased with your existing products that you exclude new possibilities.

Visionary leaders must become expert in dealing with uncertainty and welcome the potential that change can unleash while providing answers as to how we create a very human future in this digital world.

Book your place at our ‘Leadership of, and for, the Future’ conference in London (15 May) where you will have the chance to deepen your understanding of disruptive technologies, such as AI in the Cloud, The Internet of Things and 5G. We will explore how to meet the challenges they present and take advantage of their unprecedented potential.

As technology fundamentally transforms the way we live, work and connect with each other. This conference focuses on how our relationships in the workplace are being reshaped; how these technological advances offer new ways of connecting but also increase the necessity for leaders to nurture human relationships. Come along to understand how you can exploit these technologies to improve your relationships with your teams, customers and all your stakeholders.