Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today's disruptions are tomorrow's incrementals

We hear a lot about disruptive innovation. Every firm we talk to has some interest in disruptive innovation - either to prevent some other firm from disrupting their market, or to disrupt another market.

Disruption has been held up as the nirvana for ultimate innovators - kind of the Olympics of innovation sport, and rightly so. Any real disruption in a product, or service, market or industry can radically remake opportunities and reshuffle the competitive deck. However, a really disruptive idea or opportunity faces two significant challenges.

First, by its very nature, a disruption is dangerous. Dynamite, used in the right hands, can be a powerful tool, but in the wrong hands can be dangerous or even deadly. That's why it is regulated. A disruptive idea can be advantageous if applied correctly, but can backfire or cannibalize your existing market. For these reasons, disruptions are usually managed very carefully. Which leads us to the second challenge:

Time. Any disruptive activity or idea will take time to vet, build and deploy. The more disruptive the idea, in general the longer to deploy, since your organization doesn't have the people or processes to build or deploy a truly disruptive idea. So, incremental ideas can be deployed relatively quickly with less risk, while disruptive ideas will almost always take much longer to deploy.

So that leaves us with this conundrum: what seems like a really disruptive idea RIGHT NOW may seem very incremental when it is finally launched as a new product or service, given the fact that many times the product or service development lifecycle can be rather long. If you could commercialize that really disruptive idea today, it would be disruptive. If it takes nine to eighteen months to commercialize, by then other products or services may be addressing the opportunity or need you spotted.

The implication? If you want to launch disruptive innovations, learn to do it quickly, outside the normal development life cycle, or make sure the ideas are exceptionally disruptive, since the time lag from concept to product or service may be long enough that others address the opportunity before you do.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:46 PM


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