The Day after Disruption
By Ben Gross
Sometimes it seems like organizations, even large enterprises, live and die by their ability to create disruptive innovations that completely redraw the market landscape, putting them at the forefront. But is this the correct way to go?
Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars had barely been on the road a month this March when a vehicle in fully autonomous mode was involved in a collision with a human-operated car in Tempe, Arizona.
Despite the company mushrooming from a tiny startup to a global transportation company in under ten years, completely disrupting the urban transport-for-hire model in the process, one single failure was enough to completely derail, at least temporarily, a major new area for the company – unmanned transportation.
Disruptive vs. continuous innovation
The Uber incident makes an excellent teaching case for exploring the limitations of disruptive innovation.
Without an ongoing process for managing innovation – a comprehensive innovation management software offering – companies must rely instead on ad-hoc, dramatic ‘disruptions’ to prove their creativity to potential customers and the market at large. However, if those sparks of creative genius do not quite come to reality as anticipated, as in the Uber incident, the ‘day after disruption’, when it inevitably arrives, is likely to be a rude awakening.
Another example of a company in a similar position was the British Airways/Air France Concorde. Supersonic travel, the ability get from New York to London in 3.5 hours instead of 7 hours was truly a groundbreaking innovation. Concorde stopped there, however, and didn’t advance their offering any further. As a result, Concorde stagnated and eventually perished. Relying on disruptive innovation alone is placing all of a company’s product management ‘eggs’ into one fragile basket. To stay at the cutting edge of an industry and still leave room for Murphy’s Law to occur (whatever can go wrong eventually will), continuous innovation management needs to be adopted as a formal, robust discipline.
Continuous innovation management
You may be wondering: what is continuous innovation and why does it matter?
UC San Diego defines continuous innovation as “Modest, incremental, ongoing upgrades or enhancements of existing technologies, services or products”. The Institute of Quality Assurance defines it as “a gradual never-ending change…Put simply, it means ‘getting better all the time’.” Six Sigma and Toyota’s Kaizen have embraced the core tenets of continuous innovation, but regardless of what you call your program, for continuous innovation to work, the change need only be marginal – as long as it is consistent and ongoing.
While many business executives have been formally trained in the concept, finding a dedicated software package to actually implement it can be a challenge at the best of times. Yet possessing a clearly identifiable toolkit for implementing it is essential to its success.
The disruptive innovation model, by contrast, traditionally depicts a situation in which a company makes a dramatic change that unseats the dominant players from their positions of power. Such disruptions are often pivots (reactions to changing market conditions). Although this is not necessarily the case, given Go to the full article.