Guest Column | July 22, 2019

Disruptive Innovation: 3 Keys To Prepare Your Organization

By Ashish Vatsal and Jesse Burns, Point B

Innovations Are Ready To Disrupt The Clinical Trial Process

"We'll be fine." That was Blackberry's co-CEO Jim Balsillie’s response when Apple launched the iPhone in 2007. At that time, Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of BlackBerry, held a 30 percent smart-phone market share in the U.S. Today, its market share is less than 1 percent.

Many have speculated about what happened to RIM, on issues ranging from technical product differences to contract negotiations to marketing plans. The underlying mistake was simple: confusing exponential growth for linear growth. Change is not constant. Change is, in fact, accelerating. If your organization struggles to keep pace, it's not alone. It is, however, risking obsolescence.

A look at key macro trends — data created worldwide, new social media users, U.S. patents filed, to name a few — shows a hockey-stick growth rate. Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, said, "Between the dawn of civilization and 2003, we only created five exabytes [of data]; now we're creating that amount every two days. By 2020, that figure is predicted to sit at 53 zettabytes (53 trillion gigabytes) — an increase of 50 times.” Not only is the world changing, but the rate at which the change is happening is itself increasing.

The impact? Once stable companies can quickly find themselves sidelined. In 1964, a company listed in the S&P 500 could expect an average lifespan of 33 years. By 2016, it was 24 years. By 2027, it is forecasted to be just 12 years. At this rate, half the companies in the index will be replaced over the next 10 years.

While it's easy to point out RIM's mistakes, it's instructive to consider what your company would have done differently: Respond aggressively to the new entrant and get whipsawed by every new product? Or, wait and see, and risk a new company stealing market share from you?

Having a pipeline of innovative ideas at the ready is the best defense. The first step is to get organized for disruptive innovation. Without taking the proper time to organize for disruptive innovation, the results can be disastrous.

To lay the groundwork for disruptive innovation within your organization, following are three foundational imperatives.

1. Have Clear Definitions — And Align On Them

A national financial firm was struggling to launch an organization-wide innovation initiative. Yet when asked their definition of innovation, executive responses ranged from "challenging the status quo, doing things differently;" to "innovation is not doing things totally new;" and "any change that makes us better." Given the range of responses, it's no wonder the firm was struggling with their initiative.

Disruptive innovation is fundamentally different from core innovation. It focuses on the business of tomorrow. It sparks big, transformative changes for the organization, such as spawning new businesses. Its goal is to get ahead of the market — even create a new market. Clearly acknowledging which type of innovation you are going after, and why, is crucial to success.

2. Be Able To Articulate The "Why"

Should you earmark $1 million for disruptive innovation — or $100 million? Which deserves more funding: Idea A or Idea B? The answers to these questions depend on knowing why your organization exists, and why it's going after disruptive innovation.

In his famous TED talk, "How great leaders inspire action," Simon Sinek points out the importance of starting with "why." The idea of buying a watch from a computer manufacturer may seem absurd, yet we have no trouble buying laptops, watches, phones and mp3 players from Apple. Not so with Dell or Lenovo. Apple has a clearly articulated “why” a purpose that allows consumers to connect with this seemingly unrelated suite of products differently.

More tactically, it's important to know the size of investment you will need. Forecasting five years into the future, and taking into account the current and planned initiatives, what is the gap in financial performance vs. goals? Going through a robust exercise to figure out your “growth gap” will help determine the size of investment needed to reach your goals.

3. Organize Differently For Disruptive Innovation

In many organizations, there is a lack of organizational readiness around disruptive innovation. By attempting to force-fit exponential business ideas into linear processes, organizations often squash good ideas on the drawing board. Managerial practices, such as pay for performance and the traditional strategic planning process, often don't know how to account for disruptive innovation, with all its unknowns and assumptions. Emerging practices such as discovery-driven planning, which builds adaptive plans with a high ratio of unknowns to knowns, are better suited for such tasks.

As the business and economic world changes — and changes faster than ever before — being organized and ready to respond is your competitive advantage. The best way to adapt is to never stop adapting.

About The Authors

Jesse Burns and Ashish Vatsal are consultants with Point B, an integrated management consulting, venture investment, and real estate development firm. Burns is an accomplished strategist and innovation leader specializing in developing new customer experiences to develop, validate and launch new business models for social sector, retail, and technology clients, advisory and project-based experience includes working with executive-level clients across more than a dozen industries. Vatsal specializes in broad sector strategy and data analysis and insight experience gained as consultant at The Boston Consulting Group and analyst at hedge fund.