Meeting the Challenges of Disruptive Innovation and Change in Business

Adapt to change or die like the dodo - Meeting disruptive innovations and change head on

by Rod Dunne on October 25, 2011

in Innovation

A quote made famous after the passing of one of the worlds most recent revolutionaries was that innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. This is one of the many famous quotes on innovation which Steve Jobs made, and could not be more correct.

Innovation propels you & me forward, makes our lives easier and shows us that we are capable of still more amazing things. Innovation and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand since it takes risk takers to foresee the value of applying cutting-edge technology to new applications.

Not only does it distinguish leaders and followers but survivors and non-survivors in the business world.

The disruptive innovation definition attempts to describe the phenomenon commonly applied when you see times changing, that we’re having it better than our grandparents or simply when businesses are becoming obsolete. In this post I’ll show you how you and your business can weather the seas of change.

Just what is disruptive innovation?

I’ve talked previously about how to patent ideas or products and while this is technically a key part of inventing it is not as crucial as you might think to disruptive innovation… in fact, getting your patient is really the start of the lifecycle, the end of which is flagged by disruptive technologies.

The disruptive innovation definition, also known as disruptive technology, describes the phenomenon of obsolescence experienced by an existing invention when a new innovation creates a market and value network that did not exist before.

Putting it simply: Every new product design incorporates the seeds of its own destruction and obsolescence.

To qualify under this definition, a new innovation must eventually disrupt an existing market and value network whether immediately or gradually over time. This term is commonly used in technology, and business applications. It refers to products, devices, processes, methods and services. Note though that disruptive innovation is not synonymous with transformational innovations although both terms can sometimes be applied to the same thing.

Disruption can also be caused by shortcomings in your products quality or specifications. Even total quality control management procedures can’t help you if the product ends up being used for purposes it was never built to support. This can often happen in software applications where users discover new uses for your applications. Innovation can then take the form of updates and upgrades to support new specifications.

Disruptive innovation examples

Disruptive technology examples are littered throughout history however there are some very notable recent examples.

The Music Industry

Delivery/playback devices for music had been changing every decade and that was no secret. From vinyl records, to eight-track tapes, to cassette tapes and the longer lived compact disc, the market was constantly churning out better forms of storage for music recordings.

It was the digital age that caught many businesses off guard when more and more individuals began downloading the songs they wanted and leaving the plastic discs at the store.

Apple Computers made its debut after the turn of the millennium with its power-packed duo of iTunes music download services and iPod music devices which changed the way the music industry delivered its content to users. Two unique operational/technical business ideas which Apple managed to combine with more flair and innovation than the competition.

The PC Industry

Another shining example that fits the disruptive technologies definition is that of the personal computer and companies like Apple, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard. The work performed by these machines today was once performed my multiple devices that spanned many different industries.

Mini computers, workstations, word processors and lisp machines are just a few of the machines whose markets and value chains were assimilated by the PC. This invention created a new market and disrupted traditional markets that searched for the same types of results that a PC could produce.

The subsequent disruptions to standard tools used in just about every industry have changed as a result (e.g. project management tools are now essential in any large-scale development). This is one instance where you’ll find disruptions in one industry (i.e. hardware) also impacted dependent sectors (i.e. software).


Meeting the challenge of disruptive change

The old saying may be cliche but turning lemons into lemonade means the difference between survival and layoffs. Embracing disruptive innovation means you must be open to recognizing trends, not being afraid of change and continuing education.

There are a variety of strategies for businesses to recognize trends happening in their industry.

  1. The internet and its many analytical tools can help companies analyze sales and website visitor behavior, market data can help businesses determine when preferences may be changing and listening to your customer base is a great way to dodge the disruptive innovation bullet.
  2. Mathematical models such as the s curve are extremely helpful in determining technological life cycles. Sometimes inventions come to market without warning and are huge successes. Even though every other organization that did not come up with the idea will wish they had, it is even more important to not ignore these phenomenons if they happen in your companys industry. Do not continue with old habits just because thats the way things have always been done.
  3. Lastly, continuous improvement is a cornerstone of innovation. Many of the greatest inventions in recent and not so recent history happened because someone was not satisfied with their results or wanted to do something better or more efficiently. Just because you are not in school does not mean the learning stops. Investing in business process flow modeling can help identify waste, bottlenecks and areas of improvement.

Remember: Companies that continually improve upon their achievements and do not become complacent are the ones that end up embodying the disruptive innovation definition within their corporate culture. The necessity for you and your business is to make sure you’re not left behind. It’s better to be at the vanguard of industrial trends then turn into one of the dinosaurs of your sector.

Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and sole writer Rod DunneI am the owner and sole writer on This is my personal blog detailing troubleshooting tips for small businesses. Posts are based upon 2 decades in consultancy & innovation management within startups/maturing companies.

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