“Don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it…”
Clayton M Christiansen coined the term “disruptive innovation” in the mid-1990s, defining it as:
“a process by which a product or service starts with simple applications at the bottom of a market – often servicing an need that is not currently being met by the current incumbents of that field – and, from this foothold, relentlessly moves up-market, changing the environment, and, sometimes, displacing the established competition.”
It’s come to mean more. It’s become a zeitgeist word, bandied about as a new, exciting successor to creativity and innovation, and people seem to think they want it.
Or do they?
Whether people want to disrupt at industry, company, or team level. The first step is to question the currently accepted position… take the music industry as an example…
|Where it was…||What happened when the established belief was questioned…|
|Music is a physical product, sold in albums and singles on vinyl and cassette.||Music is rented when you need it through Spotify, Amazon and iTunes. People create their own albums as they want to.|
|Sharing music is terrible. “Home taping is killing music!”||Sharing music is to be encouraged as it builds interest, momentum and profile for artists. By turning music into a subscription service, Spotify has made the record collection of the whole world available to everyone.|
|Artists have to have a recording contract to get their music distributed.||Artists control their own output, using the power of their fanbase to produce what they want to make, and what the fans want to consume. Companies like Apple do exclusive deals with artists to make their product available to consumers.|
|Recording live concerts damages the artists’ product and reputation.||Live concerts are an experience that can be added to. Recordings of the gig you have just been to are available – at a price above the price of a live album – on the night of the gig, so the experience lives on for the people who were there.|
|And when digital is everything…||People want vinyl. They want the physical experience of music. They want everything that digital no longer gives them!|
“Something’s going on, a change is taking place…”
Things have to fall into place. The environment, timing and technology does have to support it, but disruption often comes from understanding the commercial outcomes and then reverse engineering from that outcome. Consider customer experience. Would people like their bills generated immediately? Enter Tonik Energy…
Disruption can be on a very simple scale but can have huge impact by really focusing on specifics that can meet customer needs better than the current offers. Patanjalimanaged to beat well established household good brands such as P&G and Unilever by focusing on an unserved customer group (natural products) and not adopting market established paradigms (such as having a large advertising spend).
The key is keeping close to the customer problem you are trying to solve.
New technology can open up obvious new markets, but can also create whole new markets. Everyone – or just about everyone – has access to the video capabilities of a smartphone. Why not offer them training, so they can make professional quality videos, without engaging a professional company, or purchasing expensive kit? Customer trends can drive whole industries and the best disruptors are those that can exploit those trends, especially if they can offer it in bitesize content.
A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow. -Ovid
The fear of failure, however, can stop people taking action. Ideas can die very quickly if not supported, so how do you respond to the ideas people come to you with? Do they get killed with a sneer or a yawn, or do you take a default “yes” approach?
Not seeing the world how it has been but being open to new trends as they develop is a key skill for people who want to work with, rather than against disruptive influences. Look at the rejuvenation of what was once considered an “elderly” market. People who would once have moved into a grey netherworld are becoming more aspirational and better connected – and new trends and new markets are opening up for older people who want to travel the world.
The instant gratification, and always-on solution that is driven by our increasingly app-based culture is providing impetus to rapid disruption, both on the demand side, and, through widespread social media, instant connectivity and high levels of visibility across industries. Disruption in one industry can be inspired by a completely different industry.
This calls for a laser sharp focus on what you are trying to achieve, and most importantly, what your customer is demanding from you… for example Chiltern Railways overcoming a traditional obstacle of lack of station facilities and simply building their own station.
“When problems come along, you must whip it…”
To adopt a disrupter’s mindset you have to see the barriers or obstacles that currently exist – or the threats to your current model that are manifested in the “desire paths” that your customers are taking to meet needs that you are not currently serving – as opportunities to be exploited, even if they appear to defy conventional wisdom for your industry. Sometimes it helps to consider what your overall product or service offering feels like for customers. Do you have an attention to detail over and above your competitors? Is something being missed that people would value?
F.E.A.R… Freeing Excellence Affects Reality
If you want to encourage disruptive innovation at a team level, it has to be obvious that support and permission is granted from the top down, even though the reality of taking on challenges and looking for new approaches will inevitably result in failure. The established culture – in life, society and business – can often mean that experimentation and failure is not celebrated and indeed, is often punished.
How can leaders or teams help to celebrate failure? “Failure cake” that is handed out at Tonik is one way of making light of people making genuine mistakes in their attempt to make improvements. Sometimes, you just have to stand up and celebrate with the “failure bow”. Don’t be ashamed of failure. The person who never made a mistake, never made anything.
It requires some personal reflection too. How comfortable are you as the leader or your leadership team with failure and risk? And what structures will you, as a leader, need to establish so that creativity and innovation can flourish without creating chaos and efforts being focused in the wrong area?
Tips for encouraging creative thinking and therefore more disruptive ideas are:
- Hire well – don’t just hire on technical skills but hire for cultural fit and individual desire to keep developing and their ability to challenge in a constructive way.
- Ensure that principles for decision making are clear from the top and provide guidelines for how people should act. This will give people a compass when they need to make decisions.
- Look external for inspiration – don’t just look at your own industry.
- Consider what you are measuring and how that is driving decisions and activity – if you change what you measure you are likely to change what people focus on.
- Find a way to celebrate failure, so the word “failure” is not seen as a bad thing, but as a necessary step to refine thinking, remove doubt, and tighten the focus on what needs to be done.
- Could Improv skills help you and your team be more confident with uncertainly and building skills in building on ideas? Would they benefit from learning to embrace ambiguity and change, operate from a “yes, and” position, provide mutual support and hold multiple thoughts while moving towards a common goal?
- Where are the clichés in your business, and what would happen if you reversed them? What established practices are you simply sticking to but are restricting your ability to innovate and disrupt? What benefits could result from Re-inventing Organisations?
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