Those of you who frequent this blog know that I’m not a huge fan of either/or propositions. In most, if not all cases, decisions that are made on this basis simply constitute a lack of depth and understanding. This particularly holds true as it applies to the topic of innovation methodology. Most innovators view innovation from one of two perspectives: those who believe disruptive innovation is superior to incremental innovation, and those who take the opposite side of the argument. In today’s post I’ll share innovations best kept secret - a different argument altogether.
I want to begin by making the argument for incremental innovation. It is faster, easier and cheaper to refine something than it is to create it. Let’s face it, not all oceans are blue. Even if you find a blue ocean to sail in, there is a lack of certainty as to whether you’ll navigate it successfully, and even if you do, as to how long you’ll remain the only ship in the ocean. I think most rational people have concluded it is much more profitable to disintermediate a market than it is to build one from scratch.
The main reason attempts at disruptive innovation fail more often, and don’t happen with more frequency and velocity is that human nature is to make things harder than needed by looking in the wrong places for disruptive opportunities. The real trick, the secret sauce if you will, is to focus on incremental innovation that becomes disruptive. Don’t think incremental vs. disruptive – think incremental and disruptive. This is the option that allows innovators to have their cake and eat it too. This is what levels the field by bringing disruptive opportunities in reach of companies that don’t have the time or resources to create new markets.
Let me be as clear as I can - disruptive innovation isn’t limited to a sole focus on creation of something new. Disruption can occur by disintermediating, refining, re-engineering or optimizing a product/service, role/function/practice, category, market, sector, or industry. The most successful companies combine disruptive thinking with incremental approaches in order to manage risk, gain time to market advantages, add value to core initiatives, and to leverage built-in efficiencies and economies of scale.
The problem with most incremental approaches to innovation is that companies don’t think big enough. Most incremental approaches more closely resemble process engineering/automation efforts with a focus on cost reduction through gaining efficiency, not on revenue creation by causing disruption. Removing self-imposed restrictions on thinking will result in opening up more opportunities to innovate around.
The good news is this: there’s an easy fix to this antiquated way of thinking which is currently crippling the innovation efforts of many companies, and it’s found by adhering to the following 6 step process:
- Define: The first thing that needs to happen is to define what constitutes disruption. Set a standard and then stick to it. I’m not suggesting that any initiative not meeting the definition by halted, but I am suggesting that you don’t fool yourself and label something as disruptive when it is clearly not.
- Identify: Now that you’ve defined what types of projects you’re looking for, aggressively begin pursuing projects that meet the standards.
- Assess: Once a potential project has been identified, put it under intense scrutiny and understand what you’re dealing with before you pull the trigger. Based upon the standards that were set in the definition phase create a scoring/ranking system based on key metrics and prioritize initiatives accordingly.
- Plan: Be strategic. Great outcomes rarely occur when initiatives are under-resourced and/or poorly led. Deploy your best resources against your greatest opportunities. Make sure you set projects up for success rather than failure.
- Implement: Get tactical. The best strategies will end-up facing certain failure unless planning transitions into practice. Without prudent, decisive, consistent and productive forward progress, plans aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Planning without implementation is an exercise in frivolity.
- Monitor: Everything in business, including the best laid plans, are subject to changes in circumstances and market conditions. Put simply, static plans are bad plans. Make sure that all efforts are measured against milestones, benchmarks, deadlines, budgets, etc. If the plan needs to be nuanced in order to achieve success, then have the flexibility engineered into your plan to allow for such changes.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below…