There was a great comment by Alan Jones of BlueChilli this week that summed up one of the real challenges of disruptive innovation. What he said is this;

…it’s the terrible ideas which are truly disruptive, which have massive entrenched competition, making products nobody wants to buy or even has a use for yet, which don’t have a clear revenue model or a go to market strategy.

What does this say about disruptive innovation? That it’s hard to predict! Disruptive innovations are low performers in the first instance, not high performers. This is where they start, before they rapidly develop to the point where they can compete in mainstream markets. And it is by no means certain that a potentially disruptive innovation will actually become disruptive. All of the normal competitive threats and business challenges lie between the fledgling innovation and the industry defining impact that they might one day come to represent.

The moral to the story in this case is that adopting disruption as a deliberate business strategy is risky business.  Find a market need, define a coherent business plan, then set about taking it to market.  Disruption will follow as a result of good business planning and execution, not planning to be disruptive!

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  1. Hi Tim,

    Since Alan doesn’t define what a “terrible idea” is, or a “crazy idea” — as he describes the ideas that get funded in Silicon Valley by comparison, it’s impossible to defend or argue the statement, but in general I’d say he’s absolutely wrong. The ideas that become disruptive are the antithesis of crazy (crazy like a fox, maybe), because they satisfy desired outcomes in ways not previously imagined, lowering costs, increasing accessibility, increasing supply, serving markets that were left out in the cold previously. If that’s crazy, then call me crazy.

    Crazy appears to mean in Alan’s vernacular ideas that conventional wisdom or incumbent businesses discard. What’s crazy to my mind is continuing on the same path of stepwise sustaining innovation after a market is overserved, which is what the incumbents who are being disrupted do. Wasn’t it Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result”?

    If Alan can’t predict disruption, it’s because he’s measuring the wrong things, not because it’s not predictable. It also is irrelevant that most people are unable to see it. It only takes one instance of the opposite — where a methodology can reliably predict something to prove that it’s possible.

    Alan also implies that Silicon Valley only discovers the disruptive ideas because they’re willing to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks (they fund the crazy ideas “because there’s so much capital that you have to invest in crazy ideas just to stay in the game”). That’s not the case at all. Nobody invests in something that they believe is a sure fail exercise — but Silicon Valley VCs absolutely have their own methods for identifying ideas that have potential to disrupt.

    There isn’t room here to describe how to predict, but I’m happy to engage in debate about it, and share with you how it’s done. It’s there for the asking.

    Reply

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