Why you shouldn’t aim for disruptive innovation

dialtypewriter_FotorIt’s the thing every Silicon Valley startup is aiming for. It’s the game-changer that’s going to turbo-charge their idea. It’s the thing that every CEO dreams of, part-nightmare, part-bliss. But can you really make it happen?

As this article by Soren Kaplan explains, it’s not a new concept. Schumpeter coined the term ‘creative destruction’ back in 1942, and this phenomenon has been around for ages. Kaplan’s point is that innovation happens because people want to do something better, solve a problem, delight a customer. You can’t tell if it’s disruptive or not until afterwards. At the time, the innovator is just striving for better.

I’d also add that disruption isn’t just caused by the innovation but by the reactions of the incumbents, and the social, economic and political situation at the time. For example, Apple disrupted the music business but it was only possible because the industry failed to make the transition itself, although it had throughout it’s history migrated through many different formats and business models.

Or look at the fax machine, which revolutionised communications in the 1980s, before itself being disrupted by email. Fax technology can be traced back to the 1840s, pre-dating the telephone, and the first digital fax was manufactured in 1966. The explosion in fax usage was not just because of technological refinements but the agreement of a global standard, the entry of the Japanese electronics giants into the market, and increasing global trade fuelling demand for faster and cheaper communication.

Disruptive innovation is not solely down to technology advances. What’s more, it can only be seen in the rear-view mirror. As a goal for your innovation efforts, or a model for your actions, it just doesn’t exist.

Picture by Ryan McGuire