Incremental innovation: Improving on the existing
Disruptive innovation: Creating the next Facebook
Disruptive innovations on the other end are not an improvement. They are a creation in the essential meaning of it. Something that never existed before was discovered or created. Humanity has made disruptive discoveries along the centuries such as mastering fire, finding out the wheel, understanding gravity, creating new social norms, and many other discoveries.
I want to add that innovation do not always take place in the technical space. It can also happen in humanities. The “discovery” that all humans originates from the same race and therefore deserves respect and freedom has led to the abolition of slavery, and more freedom for women. Social innovations can be identified in retrospectives and are most of the time source of rebellion and fight for freedom.
How does a creative innovator looks like?
Those disruptive innovations are most of the time a mix of grit, creativity and luck. The Wright brothers, for example, were convinced that they could create an engine that could fly: they demonstrated Grit. When facing a dilemma they had to find creative solutions, and try things that were never done before. Sometimes an idea strikes the creator which led him to a breakthrough. It is also possible that a defect in the machinery reveals a simple trick. This is luck.
Innovators have common traits:
- They have a fixed idea and want to achieve it
- They are stubborn
- They see failure as a lesson
- They can be seen as originals
- They are curious
Creators are outcasts
Usually, most people who fit in the description of innovator are outcasts. They are looked upon with a mix of misunderstanding and judgement. They always face people saying: “It has never been done before, stop trying”. Those kind of comments are subtle way to say : “it will never work”, “you are crazy“. People behavior toward creators changes drastically when they demonstrate that their idea is valid.
Disruptive innovators are not legions
Another fact, we can reflect on is that successful disruptive innovators are not represented in big numbers. There are many people with out-of-the-box ideas but have no capacity to create what they envisioned because of lacking skills, clarity, and common sense. We all know someone or a product which pretends to revolutionize the way you do X. Maybe they are right and will prove us wrong but sometimes their “innovation” turns out to be a bust. So how do you determine the difference between a potential success or failure of an innovative idea?
Everyone can recognize a successful innovation after it is done
It is easy to say afterward that you recognized the disruptive innovation but in fact, it is not that simple. We can recognize a potential successful innovation by asking ourselves the following questions:
- Is it useful?
- Is it accessible?
- Is it unique?
Only the market can provide answers to those questions. I invite you to read the book Zero to one by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal. There he gave advice on disruptive innovations.
Innovations are ignored at first
I find it fascinating to look at how innovations were brought to the world. There are as many stories as there are innovations but what struck me the most is that innovations were ignored, dismissed, stolen… It could be a part of a solution, a concept, one specific formula that in the right context could change the world.
Innovators are never considered serious until they finally give birth to the innovation. Big corporations are trying to be innovative because they know that it is the only way they can survive in the ever-changing market. It is not unusual to see a small fish create an innovation that will disrupt the market.
Organizational reasons for low innovation
Companies are not able to innovate or give birth to disruptive innovation, since mostly:
- they are silos that reduce the exchange of information
- they have a bureaucracy that “makes fast” moves impossible
- they have rigid processes that create sclerosis
- Failures are not tolerated
Big companies find many ways to be creative
Big companies know that their organizational structure and operation hurts creativity. Yet, they still find new ways to be creative, such as:
- Start-up program: Big companies finance start-ups to develop new products or services. They identify start-ups with potential and give them financial support as well as access to experts. The start-ups are free to function as they wish and do not have to deal with the organizational stiff regulations.
- In-house innovation program: Having a team within your organization that is allowed to work in new ways. This one is similar to the startup program with the only difference that the companies employees are identified and brought together.
- Innovation by optimization: The aim is not to create the next Facebook but rather to improve what you are already doing. The innovation by optimization is done in most of the companies.
Hiring the right fit for your innovation program
These programs do not thrive by hiring “mini-me(s)” or people with the same ideas as the “mainstream”. Innovation in a team requires a variety of talents, different point of views and experiences. It comes from diversity, friction and adversity.
A creative team is a diverse one that has:
- complementary skills
- individuals with unique point of views
- capacity to deal with complexity
- common desire to tacle a problem
Your leaders should look for those who do not fit directly into your job descriptions. Give them a chance to surprise you!
Innovation is possible when friction exists. Why innovate if everything is alright and we all desire the same thing? Teams can build up products based on their past experiences.
Be a deviant leader
This is when I urge you to be a deviant leader. The one that do not only talk about diversity at work but makes it happen. The one will hire a person who really wants the position even if he / she does not have the qualifications and background. Hire foreigners, minority because you they will bring a new perspective to the common work. DO it because you want novelty. Here is why:
- Dedication is more important than experience. One can move mountains when dedicated
- A problem cannot be solved with the same level of consciousness than the one that created it – Einstein