Is disruptive innovation the only game in town?

Is disruptive innovation the only game in town?

I was recently invited to attend a conference on creativity and innovation.

I applaud the people behind this conference because we need more not less innovation.

But the opening spiel troubled me.

I quote from their web site:

Innovate or die?

Disrupt yourself or pay the price!

The challenge of this century is to transform our organisations to adapt flexibly and rapidly to the ever-­changing and volatile environments we face.

Giant disruption always heralds huge opportunities.

To be sure, disruptive innovation is important and there are lots of amazing examples of it taking place (think UBER).

But there are many disadvantages in relying solely on this approach:

1. Can you really do it as the text-book says?

Many examples of disruptive innovation cited by academics and consultants always seem to be after the event.

In other words they seem to identify new products or business models after they have been successful.

But shouldn’t we expect this approach to be more predictive?

More proactive perhaps?

2. It’s rare

Disruptive innovation is also relatively infrequent.

This means that it’s hard to develop leaders for example in how to actually do it because it is so rare.

As a result there are so few role models.

3. Middle managers & leaders are left out

Disruptive innovation for many leaders also means that innovation does not talk to them.

Because it often involves large technology changes this seems out of the reach of most middle managers for example.

But surely we should be encouraging all managers and leaders to innovate — everyday?

4. It rarely impacts culture

One of the most common questions I get asked is how do you build a more innovative culture.

Waiting around for a disruptive innovation to happen will not change a culture in any way.

What we want I suspect is an every-day approach.

5. Many of the examples are  small companies or start-ups

UBER for example seemingly came from nowhere.

This makes it hard for medium to larger organisations to come to grips with this approach.

6. Lets not forget it’s slow, expensive and risky.

Enough said.

In summary:

As I said, innovative disruption is important.

But it seems at the moment that this approach is being presented as disrupt or nothing.

Surely there is some other approaches like the small wins way I am suggesting here.

Both ways can complement each other.

So why don’t we all disrupt our thinking and search for a more holistic approach to innovation that could include any number of approaches.

The only test is whether it is engaging and it works.



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