#FutureofBrands: Is all innovation disruption?

Disruption and innovation are big buzzwords. Whilst they are trending, it’s important to understand what they mean and how they can work for us and to the benefit of our organisations.

While working with our clients and networks, we’re increasingly finding that definitions of these terms differ from organisation to organisation, as well as at an individual level within an organisation. This possible disjoint in the interpretation can create a gap in expectations, both in day to day operations and in higher-level KPIs.

Disruption turns things on its head and can have wide-reaching impact on industry. Innovation doesn’t necessarily. Definitions for innovation often focus on efficiency, creativity and bringing great value to a process or product. Innovation as defined in in The Business Dictionary:

The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.

To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business, innovation often results when ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers. In a social context, innovation helps create new methods for alliance creation, joint venturing, flexible work hours, and creation of buyers’ purchasing power.

For disruption, Andy Rachleff lays out a succinct summary of The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen:

“In short, a disruptive product addresses a market that previously couldn’t be served — a new-market disruption — or it offers a simpler, cheaper or more convenient alternative to an existing product — a low-end disruption.
 
An incumbent in the market finds it almost impossible to respond to a disruptive product. In a new-market disruption, the unserved customers are unserved precisely because serving them would be unprofitable given the incumbent’s business model. In a low-end disruption, the customers lost typically are unprofitable for the incumbents, so the big companies are happy to lose them.
 
Thus, the innovator’s dilemma. Incumbents appropriately ignore the new product because it is uneconomic to respond, but the incumbents’ quiescence can lead to their later downfall.”

 

In what ways are these concepts defined within your business culture?

Writing for Forbes, Caroline Howard makes the difference:

“Disruptors are innovators, but not all innovators are disruptors — in the same way that a square is a rectangle but not all rectangles are squares.”

When not clearly defined, innovation may have internal expectations but no benchmarks or accountability. In other words, small changes albeit unique to that business make be classed as innovation when its just a simple efficiency adjustment.

Conversely, larger pieces of innovation may be mislabeled as disruption when it’s just creating an unprecedented level of efficiency or engagement.
 
Why does the label matter?

The evaluation of innovation and disruption creates opportunities for brand elevation. Understanding the benchmarks within the organisation as well as within your industry can create a new stream for engagement with your clients and your network.

For example, it is unlikely that you will want to announce that you are able to achieve a certain process more cost effectively because it is simply an innovative measure that may lead to greater profitability. What might be a innovative to you might be something a competitior has been doing for a while. However if that change of process can allow for a change in the industry that allows for new markets to be served or new business or process models beyond your organisation, you are disrupting the market. The requisite impact for your brand is elevation, greater marketability and far-reaching exposure.

In a recent piece by Shiv Sachdev and Maxwell Wessel in the Harvard Business Review, they laid out a framework to evaluate opportunities using Uber as an example:
 

 
Are you able to innovate or disrupt?

Once clearly defined, the larger question begs if you are equipping and creating an environment for positive change, and more importantly, resourcing for it.

When it comes to defining innovation and disruption, it’s also important to keep quality and risk management in mind. Delivering a synthesis of quality and innovation is a larger topic well worth thinking about as brands position for the future.

In many organisations, innovation still requires you to colour within the lines. Can true innovation occur within defined boundaries?

Joel Barolsky recently questioned the nature of hiring for cultural fit. In this post he wonders whether people actually mean they’re looking for “a person like us who won’t disrupt the status quo.” He concludes with: “It’s not really cultural fit, but rather no cultural misfit.”

Barolsky proposes that viewing cultural fit in this way is actually counter-productive to an organisation’s future. He identifies three categories of employees: 1) the Misfits, 2) the Colleagues, and 3) the Catalysts. He uncovers some of the common issues for organisations as a result of these categories:

“Misfits are unmanageable non-team players who have been retained either because they’re major rainmakers and/or the firm’s leadership hasn’t had the guts to have the hard conversation. Misfits are sometimes referred to as cultural terrorists.

Colleagues are those that fit in and play by the tacit and explicit rules. They are solid performers and contributors within the current cultural norms.

Catalysts are those that will help create the firm you want to become. They’re the agents of change that enable the firm to adapt to new client demands and competitive realities. Whilst Catalysts are collegiate and respectful of others, they are disruptive in that they act as symbols and sources of energy for new ways to operate and compete.”

Barolsky’s article really incites a simple question – if you want to innovate, are you resourced to disrupt and are you prepared to be disrupted?

If you want to innovate, do you have enough Catalysts in the organisation or you asking Colleagues to change? Are you mistaking your Catalyst for Misfit because they are challenging you?

Start with clarifying expectations and benchmarks within your business  as to when and how innovation is expected or valued. This may lead to creating new opportunities for yourself and your business. Then consider if you are equipped and resourced to meet those needs and opportunities. The resources you need, whether it is human capital, technology or thought leadership, could already be within your business to leverage.

Collaboration can be a great catalyst for innovation within teams.

In what ways are you innovating to position your brand for the future?