We're going to do... disruptive innovation!

We’re going to do… disruptive innovation!

Welcome back to these pages – and the almost final installation of a series that was started some months ago, talking about some of the grand sweeping statements that we hear, and make.

You could say that a grand sweeping statement such as “I will finish this series of posts by the end of August” might be worth mentioning… but that’s a sweeping statement for another day. Maybe even another post! Although, a lot of good material has already been written around prioritisation, and building great work habits… maybe I will leave that to the experts.

So, for those who have forgotten (shame on you), this series looks at, as I mentioned, some grand statements that fall into the category of “all sound and fury and signifying… not a whole lot”. We’ve already touched on (below for your convenience and viewing pleasure):

We’re going to do… a blog!

We’re going to do… social!

We’re going to do… e-commerce!

In all of these cases, we have established there are some questions to ask to deliver the best chance of success – and have established that, frequently, these questions are ignored. That generally leads to a failure in the area that the bold statement is aimed to fix.

So where to next? That amazing word, that word that is intended to transform an organisation and its perception in the market. I will put you out of your misery, because I know just how keen you are to bask in the glory of this forward looking word that defines the essence of everything a company should be…

We’re going to do… disruptive innovation!

First… a reality check

That kind of statement looks and sounds wonderful, and certainly makes a lot of people feel an awful lot better about their organisation, and what it’s doing.

After all, when you think about engagement for staff, no-one wants to work for a company that doesn’t want to innovate. When you think of your customers, too, you’d expect that they want to partner with an organisation with its eyes on the future and not with its head in the past. So, this kind of statement often comes from a good place.

But what do we expect from disruptive innovation? I won’t bore you with definitions… but on a number of occasions people have used examples of “innovation” that, whilst great examples of strong business performance, didn’t represent something innovative.

For instance, a popular current smartphone manufacturer is often cited as innovative – but they weren’t first to the market with the concept. They actually let others pave the way. The same goes for search and digital channels… the current largest player in that space was not the first.

So we do need to be clear that, when we talk about disruptive innovation, many of the most successful organisations have done something very different – they have identified segments for expansion and domination, once those segments have already been penetrated and identified.

I suppose one lesson from that is that you don’t actually need to be disruptively innovative – you just need to be able to take advantage of the new openings. Perhaps that is more business growth than pure innovation – a discussion for another time!

On to more thoughts

Let’s start with why we might innovate (leaving aside the knee jerk “we absolutely must, because innovating is cool” approach). We are driven to innovate by:

  • the people, customers and communities we serve;
  • the competitors and organisations we fear;
  • the companies or organisations we aspire to be.

And every now and then, a bright idea. But let’s focus on some of the questions. First of all…

Why are you innovating?

  • Is it your customer?

And if it is, what do you know about their needs? Have you some form of measurable need or demand in place? Have you asked them – and do you really understand what they’re saying back to you? Sometimes we think they’re telling us one thing – but because we are listening to them through our own lens and frame of reference, we don’t really understand.

  • Is it your competitor?

And if so, do you want to be just like them, or better? Are you “innovating” for show when what you’re actually doing is changing what you are doing now, so you can do something someone else is doing? Think about best practice and what you get when you go for it – you get exactly what everyone else is doing.

And for your competitors…will they worry and react by following you? Or will they ignore you? And if they ignore you…what does that tell you?

  • Is the driver for your innovation financially motivated?

And if it is, is it really innovation – or is it just looking to claw in more money and profit for less outlay? Or, is this innovation internally focussed?

That doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be innovation – innovation doesn’t have to be within the frame of reference of external stakeholders. But have you really costed this properly – and are you aware of the impact if this doesn’t pan out? If you are financially innovating, what are you going to do if it struggles at first?

  • The tough one… is it ego?

This is a critical one. A lot of decisions are taken in this kind of space that, at the end of the day, are down to ego. All I can say is, if the purpose of your innovation stems from nothing more than making yourself feel like you are innovating, it’s incredibly unlikely to succeed in meeting a customer’s needs.

In my next post on Innovation I will talk more about the how, and the who. I will just leave you with something that is worth remembering when you think about innovating, or in fact any change to your business. Your customers. They may be fickle, demanding, irritating, frustrating. But the other things that they are? Your lifeblood. And always. ALWAYS. Right.

Something to remember!

By Jethro Grainger-Marsh, director, digital business and transformation, Criterion