3 Precepts To Turn Your Biz World Upside Down

open_innovationDisruptive innovation.

Within the hallowed halls of the country’s top business schools, there’s a fierce debate raging over the concept of disruptive innovation. Some scholars even claim it doesn’t exist.

If I can steal a line from former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when writing his opinion on the landmark 1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio pornography decision: I may not be able to define disruptive innovation, “but I know it when I see it.”

Most “innovation” is evolutionary. It effects the flow of commerce in marginal ways, like “veering to the left” at a five-point intersection. Disruptive innovation is like hitting the brakes and swerving to take a sudden sharp right-hand turn that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Hacks get hacked

Consider Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, the app-based services that connect riders to drivers at cities all across the country. Are they disruptive? Just ask any of the cabbies who are protesting from sea to shining sea. Uber pioneered the idea of connecting riders with private drivers via an app and having the fare settled in the virtual world.

Any area of business is susceptible to disruptive innovation. You might be very close to coming up with an innovation that changes the course of your business. The first step you must make is to not idealize disruptive innovation. Do not elevate the concept thinking that it’s only within reach for a few specially blessed individuals.

Thomas Edison—whose lightbulb cartoonists use to illustrate an idea—is the one who said that “genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” That leads to the first precept:

  • To develop a game-changing concept, you must be willing to sweat.

Don’t go with the flow

If we look at notable recent disruptive innovations, they generally occur when two “rivers of commerce or technology” are merged into one new stream. The iPhone merged computing with mobile phones. Uber merged rides with cloud computing. Netflix merged video rentals with online browsing. To sense these opportunities, you have to move beyond the four walls that currently define your business model. Second precept:

  • To develop a game-changing concept, you must engage the world outside of your sandbox.

I think my final point is pretty obvious: committing to the development of a disruptive innovation is not for the faint of heart. By its very nature it means that you’ll be navigating through uncharted territory and you are far more likely to fail than succeed. Third precept:

  • To develop a game-changing concept, you must be bold and not afraid of repeated failures.

Are you up for a new adventure? If so, step back and start taking in the bigger picture. Grab a copy of Scott Anthony’s The Little Black Book of Innovation,” talk to people, capture your ideas and go change the world.

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