Disruptive innovators often apply their 5 major skills in new niche discovery and market share dominance.
James Campbell

2020-05-07 08:26:00 Thu ET

Disruptive innovators often apply their 5 major pragmatic skills in new blue-ocean niche discovery and market share dominance.

Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen (2011)

The innovator's DNA: mastering the top discovery skills of disruptive innovators

 

Clayton Christensen and his co-authors dispel the myth that only a few disruptive innovators share the creative gene. By examining many well-known innovators to explain the key values, processes, and resources for disruptive tech breakthroughs, Christensen et al offer a prescient blueprint for cultivating an organizational culture of disruptive innovations. Senior executive managers should build associative links to connect the dots for iterative continual improvements. These corporate leaders should further ask the right questions to identify the target audiences and customer needs, demands, tastes, beliefs, and preferences. Disruptive innovators must like to observe different disciplines, professions, and industries etc in order to connect emergent external environments and market conditions to their core competencies.

Moreover, it is often important for senior corporate decision-makers to include both subject matter experts and non-experts of diverse backgrounds to learn from tests, past groupthink mistakes, experiments, familiar surprises, and fresh perspectives. In essence, these senior corporate leaders must be bold enough to use both pilots and prototypes to try out new experiences, processes, products, and services etc for better iterative experimentation. Each stumbling block can be the next stepping stone, and each caterpillar needs to break the cocoon to transform into a beautiful butterfly. When push comes to shove, the law of inevitable consequences counsels caution. In practice, senior corporate leaders can follow the Christensen blueprint to become the next disruptive innovators in the broader business context.

 

Everyone can nurture his or her capability to build the next disruptive technological advances regardless of genetic predispositions.

Like Steve Jobs and his Apple business ventures, most people need to respectfully ask the right questions for better prototypes and products in the broader business context. From the beautiful typography available on the MacBook to the small and quiet Apple II computer, people can learn the core skills for disruptive innovations from Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, and their team members at Apple. Learning these key skills for disruptive innovations involves thinking outside the black box in practice. In a fundamental view, people who grow up in core western countries that promote individualism and merit over collectivism and hierarchy are more likely to challenge the status quo with disruptive innovations in a creative way.

Disruptive innovators often take reasonable risks to challenge the status quo. Bold innovators strive to put a ding in the universe with positive contributions worldwide. From time to time, mistakes, failures, biases, and prejudices etc are necessary and inexorable parts of the creative discovery process. However, most senior executive managers typically tend to have better delivery skills than discovery skills. Delivery skills include analytical business plans and technical details for practical execution and implementation. Specifically, these corporate leaders often tend to work inside the box to convert business visions and goals into tasks and missions. In practice, these executive managers are great at delivering positive results and outcomes.

In comparison, disruptive innovators focus on incubating fresh business ideas and insights. In due course, these insights radically change the current business model with simple, reliable, convenient, and cost-effective products and processes. As a result, new target customers hire these alternative products and services to better accomplish specific jobs, tasks, and missions.

 

In a nutshell, disruptive innovators hone their top 5 major discovery skills:

 

  1. Disruptive innovators identify robust associative links to better connect the dots across professions, disciplines, and even geographic locations. These robust associations can empower many innovators to establish implicit connections in the hot pursuit of fresh ideas, rules, conjectures, and many other prescriptions. In combination, the core inventive features and elements of both a dishwasher and a microwave may result in a brand-new kind of dishwasher that uses heat to sanitize dishes without water. By identifying such associative links, disruptive innovators can often refine some current technology for broader applications.

 

  1. Disruptive innovators challenge the status quo by asking the right questions. In due course, pragmatic problem-solvers can help find the correct answers to the right questions; however, disruptive innovators often need to come up with the right questions in the first place. A good example can be the pivotal question of whether the incumbent company can continue to serve most target customers if somehow the local law enforcement authority placed an interim ban on selling products and services worldwide; if some pandemic outbreak such as SARS or Covid-19 halted the global supply chains; or if the major upstream supplier went bankrupt. At any rate, the law of inadvertent consequences counsels caution.

 

  1. Disruptive innovators observe and discern how most target customers interact with fresh products and services. From time to time, disruptive innovators look for novel ways and even anomalies to create solutions to some extant problems. For instance, Elon Musk regards Tesla as a new tech company that focuses on the lean production of electric cars with lithium ion batteries. Musk overcomes the technical challenge that each original high-end electric car costs much more than what most American consumers are willing to pay. Musk hence has to rely on iterative continual enhancements and ultimate disruptive innovations in the market for electric vehicles. In due course, the Model 3 sedan proves to be the first favorite electric car for consumers both in America and elsewhere. A similar example applies to the Tata Group that provides cost-effective Nano scooters to Indian consumers. In both cases, the disruptive innovators discern and then observe how American and Indian car lovers interact with either electric cars or scooters. Each alternative vehicle suits the domestic external environment and can even attract numerous global consumers. In a fundamental way, disruptive innovators find the ideal solutions to some extant problems or even anomalies.

 

  1. Disruptive innovators network with both subject matter experts and non-experts of diverse backgrounds to learn from past mistakes, groupthink failures, biases, and prejudices etc for future business success. Disruptive innovators often tend to focus on the distinct discovery of new products and services (rather than the subsequent successful delivery of resources, products, and services). With this discovery-driven mindset, disruptive innovators learn familiar surprises, acquire new perspectives, and run small iterative tests for continual improvements over time. In practice, diverse views and opinions empower senior corporate leaders to gain unique competitive advantages. This diversity magnifies teamwork and camaraderie for disruptive innovators to tap into new territories of both product differentiation and cost leadership.

 

  1. Disruptive innovators enjoy exploring new products, pilots, and prototypes etc for iterative continuous experimentation. Several tech titans such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon often move fast, fail forward, and launch new products and services in mobile communication, software, Internet search, social media, and e-commerce. Across the competitive high-tech industry, the co-founders and senior executive managers often try out new experiences, live in different countries, work in novel industries, and develop new skills. Through numerous pilots and prototypes, these disruptive innovators can better find the next product-market fit (e.g. iPhones, iPads, iOS and Android apps, Windows system regular updates and Office software suites, and e-commerce and social media network platforms).

 

 

High-tech disruptive innovators often share several common characteristics.

Christensen et al re-rank the BusinessWeek 2005-2009 list of the most innovative companies to include Amazon, Apple, Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Nintendo, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Research in Motion, and Hewlett-Packard. In fact, it is quite reasonable for Christensen et al to identify serial disruptive innovators on the more objective basis of the corporate innovation premium. If the market value of a public corporation exceeds the sum of net cash flows to its core business operations, this discrepancy is the corporate innovation premium. Given this objective fundamental selection criterion, Christensen et al lean toward Amazon, Apple, Celgene, Google, Monsanto, Salesforce, and so forth.

Corporate decision-makers who think outside the box tend to interact with subject matter experts as well as non-experts who play in a different box. In this important way, these corporate decision-makers gain new ideas and fresh perspectives for better triangulation. Disruptive innovators often look for team members with a track record of creative discovery skills. These active team members associate, question, observe, network, and experiment in order to make a socioeconomic impact in the world. From time to time, disruptive innovators encourage these team members to challenge the status quo in the best interests of customers, suppliers, distributors, debtors, shareholders, and other venture capital investors.

Most disruptive innovators honor their words and convictions by investing heavily in a unique organizational culture of team creativity. For instance, Google applies a 20% project rule, which encourages its software engineers to spend 20% of their time, or one day per week, on any pet project of rational choice. Gmail and Google News are 2 well-run Internet software ventures that have arisen from 20% projects. These examples demonstrate the intrinsic value of providing the right environment with core values, processes, and resources to design disruptive innovations.

Meanwhile, disruptive innovators cannot underestimate the organizational value of delivery skills. Within a highly creative work environment, the business still needs delivery-driven middle managers and team members to carry out specific missions and tasks. These contributors apply both business acumen and technical expertise to resolve day-to-day problems and priorities. The lean independent organization should encourage these more technical experts to celebrate small wins throughout many iterative continuous improvements over time.

A good example relates to the dual transformation of Apple iPhones from only one model per year to at least 3 models for better price discrimination worldwide. This transformation reflects the prescient clairvoyance and leadership of Tim Cook and his vice presidents and other direct reports etc. On the one hand, each new iPhone model targets the specific customer group from the high-end tier of Samsung and Huawei smart phone users to the lower-end tier of Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi users. On the other hand, Tim Cook and his operational team supervisors orchestrate the seamless integration of core business operations for smooth iPhone delivery. This seamless integration extracts substantial economic rent from global supply chains in a cost-effective manner. This example suggests that disruptive innovations can arise from not only technological advances and functional enhancements but also smoother business operations. At Apple, this latter operational improvement helps deliver the economically desirable outcome of better product diversification. In this light, disruptive innovators often cannot underestimate the organizational value of delivery skills. Although disruptive innovators tend to emphasize creative discovery skills for superior product design and service provision, the lean enterprise requires robust delivery skills from middle managers and other team members to carry out specific tasks and missions. In effect, these specific tasks and missions must align well with the main mandate of core business operations for efficient teamwork. On balance, this efficient team execution helps improve product and service reliability and diversity through the product development cycle.

 

Clayton Christensen and his co-authors dispel the myth that only a few disruptive innovators share the creative gene. By examining many well-known innovators to explain the key values, processes, and resources for disruptive tech breakthroughs, Christensen et al offer a prescient blueprint for cultivating an organizational culture of disruptive innovations. Senior executive managers should build associative links to connect the dots for iterative continual improvements. These corporate leaders should further ask the right questions to identify the target audiences and customer needs, demands, tastes, beliefs, and preferences. Disruptive innovators must like to observe different disciplines, professions, and industries etc in order to connect emergent external environments and market conditions to their core competencies.

Moreover, it is often important for senior corporate decision-makers to include both subject matter experts and non-experts of diverse backgrounds to learn from tests, past groupthink mistakes, experiments, familiar surprises, and fresh perspectives. In essence, these senior corporate leaders must be bold enough to use both pilots and prototypes to try out new experiences, processes, products, and services etc for better iterative experimentation. Each stumbling block can be the next stepping stone, and each caterpillar needs to break the cocoon to transform into a beautiful butterfly. When push comes to shove, the law of inevitable consequences counsels caution. In practice, senior corporate leaders can follow the Christensen blueprint to become the next disruptive innovators in the broader business context.

 

 

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