Disruptive Innovation Is the Norm. Expect It.


Disruptive Innovation Is the Norm. Expect It.

Disruptive innovation is the norm. Expect it. Plan for it. Do it.

Disruptive innovation.

On a recent trip to a historic country town I was waiting for our walking tour to start and noticed an antique street lamp that was still in use – it had once run on gas but had been converted to electricity. This got me thinking about technology and disruptive innovation – on the surface it seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, but this blast from the past in the form of an old street lamp that had been changed to adapt to a new energy source was a stark reminder to me that disruptive innovation has actually been around for more than a century.

The search term ‘disruptive innovation’ is on a major uptrend according to Google Trends analysis, which shows that people are four times more likely to search for that term in 2017 than they were in 2007. So, what is it and what does it mean for your business?

Disruptive innovation is something that disrupts an existing market by creating new ways to deliver value. It can displace established businesses and create new dominant players in the market. The term ‘disruptive innovation’ was coined by Clayton M. Christensen in 1995 in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Examples of disruptive innovation.

There are many examples of disruptive innovation where innovative techniques or new technology has disrupted an existing industry or market, dating back to more than a hundred years ago, such as:

  • From bows and arrows to guns.
  • From sailing ships to steamships.
  • From passenger ships to aircraft.
  • From horse and cart to mass produced motor cars (Ford Model T).
  • From the telegraph to the telephone.
  • From big and bulky cathode ray tube televisions to flat screens.
  • From fixed line phones to mobile phones.
  • From printed encyclopaedias to Wikipedia.
  • From ‘dumb’ mobile phones to Smartphones.
  • From film cameras to digital cameras.
  • From incandescent light bulbs to LED.
  • From bricks and mortar bookshops to Amazon.
  • From hotels to Airbnb.
  • From taxis to Uber.

The list goes on and on!

Dollar Shave Club.

Disruptive innovation isn’t necessarily about amazing new developments or astounding new technology – it can be something as simple as a new distribution model. An interesting example of this is the Dollar Shave Club, who burst onto the multi-billion dollar men’s grooming scene in 2012 when their Our Blades Are F***ing Great promotional video went viral on YouTube, which is now approaching 25 million views (it’s very funny and well worth a look). At the time, the video attracted such interest that it crashed their server in the first hour and resulted in 12,000 orders within 48 hours of the video launch.

The Dollar Shave Club distribution model is a membership service, where subscribers sign up to a set number and type of shavers every month for just a few dollars. They have now reached 2 million members and have expanded their line of products and services. Other club membership distribution models such as Harry’s and Oscar have since surfaced in the shaving industry. Research indicates that these new models have taken significant market share from the big players such as Gillette, which has lost substantial market share for the past six years in a row.

In July 2016, Dollar Shave Club was bought by Unilever, at a figure that is reported to have been $1 billion in cash. That’s a nice return for an idea that was born from two guys meeting at a party who got talking about the high cost of razor blades!

Can you disrupt your industry?

The question is not if, but when, disruptive innovation will disrupt your market. One of your current competitors, or someone who was not even in your space previously (such as car manufacturer Tesla who has very quickly become a big player in the energy market by leveraging their battery technology), will develop new technology or innovate their model to deliver value in a revolutionary new way that will affect your business. Expect it, plan for it, be ready for it. Even better, do it yourself – be the innovator, the leader, the disruptor.

Be strategic and really unpack your business and your industry – evaluate what you do and how you do it and then implement an innovation strategy – put together your own think-tank of key people in your business and trusted advisors from other fields. Accessing new brains that aren’t limited by the commonly held constraints and limiting beliefs around your industry can be a really powerful way to get the creative juices flowing.

Work out how to deliver more value more efficiently to more people using a scalable distribution model that is not limited by your current resources and instead of being the one who is disrupted, maybe you will become the disruptor!

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