Elegant Disruption – Innovation Refined
We’re all familiar with ‘disruption’ in business although we may not call it that. Think Spotify, Uber, Etsy, and Warby Parker.
Businesses which have disrupted the status quo and unseated corporate giants.
Given the success of these businesses, it’s hardly surprising that ‘disruption’ in business has never been more sought out and revered than it is now.
Businesses spend huge amounts of time and money, trying to figure out how they can become the next ‘disruptor’ brand. But there’s a problem… disruption is often a POOR way for businesses to create the impact that they want… you just have to think about the economic collapse of 2008 to realize that breaking boundaries is not always the best way to achieve growth.
There is a new approach to disruption…a more Elegant Disruption.
At Happen innovation agency, we work with many Fortune 100 companies with a thirst to disrupt and an even bigger thirst to do it in a way that leads to significant growth but does not put their organization at risk.
Here’s an approach that works:
- Acknowledge Vulnerabilities – confront your vulnerabilities and limitations as an organization – candidly and comprehensively.
- Leverage Advantages – declare your strengths proudly and play to them wherever you can – use the assets that you have.
- Collide Collaboratively – the most impactful innovations live at the intersection of consumer, technology, market, design, and organizational factors. Collide inputs from all five ‘voices’ for maximum impact.
- Anchor Insightfully – surface the frustrations of your customers and root your solutions in the moments of truth that are the game changers.
- Design Iteratively – bring solutions to life through iterative development, prototyping, and realness.
- Manage Change – increase the likelihood that the proposed change is implemented successfully by managing the natural order of how a person experiences it and apply that to the organization.
Let me give you an example of growth through elegant disruption from my personal life. A decade ago, I competed in my first Ironman competition and I completed it in 14hrs and 8 minutes. Imagine the rush. I was now part of a community of elite athletes. I was hooked. I signed up for another immediately to try to better my time. Because that’s what you do right? I watched the IM community and their obvious desire to ‘disrupt’… to find a magic bullet which would magically shave hours off their performance time. Knowing that I was a lousy swimmer, an average cyclist and a decent runner, I took a different approach. I started by being honest about by vulnerabilities. And I coupled that with a few advantages – my relentless level of commitment and my ability to hypnotize myself to overcome my fear of swimming. I spent 12 months looking at as many small improvements as I could make to achieve significant overall growth – to complete my IM in less time…I changed my nutrition, I trained differently, I hired a swim coach, I wore different clothing, I bought a better bike – any way I could think of to make small improvements. The result? In less than a year, I shaved 1 hour and 26 minutes off my finish time. And it was because I was banking on a series of small changes that individually, didn’t seem that daunting, but when bundled, had a significant incremental impact. In the end, I got the result I was looking for and I honoured who I was as an athlete.
So let’s apply that theory back to businesses.
First of all, no Fortune 100 company is going to be Uber. They just can’t operate the same way. An expert in this space, Dr. Clayton Christensen, himself addresses why start-ups must and do innovate differently than large corporations. Simply put, it is far more difficult, costly and risky to run an enterprise at the same time that you disrupt it.
As innovation consultants, we have observed a growing desire for a new type of disruption, which comes from three innovation approaches clashing together. It’s a more elegant form of disruption that results from the merging of design thinking, customer experience and the desire to supersede the current situation. It comes from innovators realizing that there is a fine balance between disruption and destruction.
So what is Elegant Disruption? What does it does it look like? There is a spectrum within which we can innovate and with the right refinement, we can honour the existing value and disrupt on a smaller scale in areas that can tolerate, embrace and support it with a smaller segment of customers who will welcome it. We can do this without alienating the larger customer base and without destroying the value in the existing business. Because while it might need to evolve, rarely is it completely broken. Elegant disruption is about distinction. It is about valuing the good in something and creating new relevance and worth.
Let’s look at an example of how a Fortune 100 did it. In the early 2000’s, when the financial-services industry disruptively innovated, it eventually led to a global financial crisis. Ed Clark, CEO of TD Bank at the time, forswore Canada’s version of this disruptive innovation, asset-backed commercial paper, making TD Bank one of the strongest banks in the world. And if you’re a growing business, ABCP is attractive because it’s relatively easy and cost effective to increase the facility size.
Incremental changes – big benefits.
The desire to disrupt comes when we need a change, the more desperate the situation, the more intense the desire to disrupt. There’s an allure to the term disruption. No turning back.
But if we are honest about what we do and do not do well, we can disrupt intelligently and gracefully. And marry that with managing how the change will positively impact people’s experience and how they would want that shift to happen. In honouring that, we have a completely different pathway to change.
If you recognise this thirst for innovation disruption you may well be a rebel innovator, find out more about our rebel club here.
Written by Mel Lehman, Founding Partner Happen North America