The phrase “disruptive innovation” gets thrown around a lot. The way we describe disruptive innovation has moved far past Clay Christensen’s original use of the phrase. Yet, it’s one of those buzzwords that we often use but don’t necessarily know what it means, or how to create it. It’s hard to achieve the goal of disruptive innovation if you aren’t certain what you are trying to accomplish.
Today’s business landscape is full of micro-disruptions that can throw you off your game at any given moment. So, it’s important to understand how to create disruptive innovation that sticks. Shaking things up just for the sake of doing so isn’t enough. It’s also more than a slight shift or bend in the marketplace. Those things fade away over time.
Real disruptive innovation creates a permanent interruption or break in the marketplace. It’s a change that you can’t undo.
I’d like to suggest an even more specific and up-to-date definition of disruptive innovation that will help you drive your innovation efforts. It won’t actually help you get ahead of the curve (that’s for your competition), it will do something different. This definition will help you create your own curve. A curve that your customers will find irresistible and build a chasm between you and the competition. In my 20 plus years of playing in innovation with both startups and Fortune 500, I’ve discovered the 3 key elements to driving real disruptive innovation that sticks.
Disruptive innovation is an emerging product, service or technology that does one or multiple of the following:
1. Redefines a category
For generations we defined a circus as a 3 tent pop up with animals, a ring leader and popcorn stands. You can picture it in your head can’t you? Then came Cirque Du Soleil that took the concept of a circus and flipped it on it’s head, literally. They took out the animals and put in incredible human acrobats, storytelling and performance. They redefined the circus category. And while other circuses were going under across the country, they thrived.
Netflix completely redefined movie rental. No more going to a location.
Disruptive innovation doesn’t happen in the cluttered seas where everyone else is playing.That’s where your great ideas die. Disruptive innovation happens on the fringes when you expand, alter or change a category completely. Much like Uber did to the Taxi world.
2. Creates new customer behavior
We always talk about how change is hard but in truth we change all the time when it provides us with an improvement in lifestyle or workflow. Take Dollar Shave Club that changed how hundreds of thousands of people purchased razors. No more stores, hello subscription razors delivered to your doorstep.
Or the ubiquitous cell phones and their apps that changed how we interact with the world.
Keurig coffee pods created a one-cup coffee culture that didn’t exist prior. Now customers are used to making one steaming hot cup of coffee at a time instead of having to make a full pot.
This is a perfect example of the definition of disruptive innovation coming to life in a meaningful way for coffee lovers.
3. Changes Trajectory of Business
Sometimes disruption isn’t seen directly in the marketplace but is felt internally, within an organization. This happens when a single product, service or department in your business outshines the rest of your product mix and ultimately becomes the business. Basecamp, a project management tool by 37signals, was one of many cloud based offerings when they started. It became so successful, that it became the entire business. WD40 wasn’t intended to be a huge success, but it was and that changed the trajectory of the entire business. I call it following a mutation. When a single aspect of your business becomes your business and changes the fundamental direction of the company.
The thing to remember with disruptive innovation is that we often don’t see it coming.
“Disruption takes us by surprise, if we aren’t the ones disrupting”
Coffee filter brands were focusing on increasing the quality of their paper cones and didn’t see Keurig and coffee pods coming. Coffee consumption was up after all. The genius minds behind Blackberry, who created the handheld category, didn’t see Apple ipods and iphone coming, replacing the current handheld marketplace. Blockbuster doubled down on customer service while Netflix was changing expectations in the marketplace. You get the picture.
Disruption doesn’t come from the close in competitors doing things in a similar way. When we work with clients on disruptive innovation we are seeking to create that disruption from the inside out so that our clients can continue to create their curves.
The challenge is, you have to be open to disrupting business as it currently exists. And in reality, if you don’t drive disruption, someone else will.
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Tamara Kleinberg of GoToLaunchStreet is a TED speaker and entrepreneur. From building and running multimillion dollar businesses, advising Fortune 500 like Disney, Procter and Gamble and RICOH on fostering innovative ideas and people. Tamara’s life is about breaking through the status quo for game-changing results, and that’s what her keynotes, online programs and assessments can do for you.