Disruptive Innovation: In 5 Years, Will Your Business
Be Alive and Thrive?

When does an innovation become disruptive? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what business is going to be like in five, ten years. Think about it, who could have imagined even five years ago how we’d be using social media sites and mobile devices in our day-to-day work? We’re all still trying to figure out how to use them to our advantage to get more done faster. Some businesses will profit, others will disappear.

Clayton M. Christensen and Scott D. Anthony are two experts in creativity and innovation, and have both written books about “disruptive innovation,” and how it affects business in the 21st century.

Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, notes that companies are thwarted by the usual suspects: “bureaucracy, arrogance, tired executive blood, poor planning, short-term investment horizons, inadequate skills and resources, and just plain bad luck” (The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, HarperBusiness, 2011).

Anthony, president of the Lexington, MA-based consulting firm Innosight, argues that tough times call for “stopping ineffective initiatives, changing key business processes and starting more productive behaviors” (The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times, Harvard Business Press, 2009).

Here are some ideas for how managers can develop a disruptive innovation mindset:

  1. Liberate resources for promising innovations by prudently shutting down dead-end projects and declining businesses.
  2. Drive fresh growth by re-featuring existing products and services and reinventing outdated processes.
  3. Mitigate risks by conducting strategic experiments and forging alliances with customers, competitors and suppliers.
  4. Appeal to value-conscious consumers and fend off low-cost attackers by delivering “good enough” offerings at an affordable price.

The Challenge for Executives

Systematizing disruptive innovation is a different beast. Senior executives must think and act in ways that run counter to everything they have previously done to succeed in their careers.

How do you simultaneously manage two different instincts: one operational, the other entrepreneurial? This is one of the challenges that comes up frequently in discussions with my executive coaching clients.

The problem is compounded during times of uncertainty. Executives who encounter tough times naturally become more conservative. It’s hard for them to tolerate creative thinking when they face the prospect of downsizing.

But companies that play it too safe can wind up in trouble down the road. Frustrated managers may quit, leaving their firms ill-equipped to function effectively once a downturn ends. Don’t let this happen to your organization.

Embracing paradox and systematizing disruptive innovation have graduated from niceties to necessities. Leaders can master these requisite skills by:

  • Developing an awareness of themselves and others
  • Creating a personalized program of leadership development with an executive coach
  • Striving to improve their ability to spot hidden opportunities and act in more entrepreneurial ways
  • Scheduling regular excursions to observe how certain customers use a product or service
  • Attending a conference in a different industry
  • Learning to ask more “what if…?” questions

Even when the economy is unhealthy, innovation and entrepreneurism must remain alive. Make sure they thrive in your company. Examine how the four fears that squash creativity are playing out in your corporate culture.

Rekindle creative thinking and innovative mindsets in your organization. There are ample opportunities for corporate innovators to create booming businesses that transform what exists and invent what doesn’t.

Questions about this? Let’s have a conversation. You can contact me here: 704-827-4474.

(Image by Mr. Lightman on FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
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