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Why you shouldn’t chase “disruptive” innovation

With the seemingly constant news about disruptive innovation in the marketplace, it seems like a smart company would invest some money in the quest to be disruptive, right? Actually, in my opinion, wrong. I contend that you should focus your efforts on adjacent innovation, incremental innovation, innovation “closer to home.”


I mean after all, think about the innovations that have changed our lives…the flush toilet, penicillin, the internet, as well as those that promise to do so…blockchain, autonomous vehicles, AI. These were all, or have the potential to be word changing innovations.

But, in point of fact, disruptive innovation almost always comes from outsiders — those without an invested stake in the status quo, for whom the new idea represents very little risk.

Think about Facebook. All Mark Zuckerberg wanted to do was look in on the girls in the dating pool. All Napster’s Sean Parker wanted to do was share music with his friends. They weren’t working inside organizations that were trying to beat the competition by changing the game. They were inventing the game.

And they had very little at stake. Whereas, you, if you want to replace an existing business model with something brand new? You put a lot at risk.

Here’s a compare and contrast. In the same year, 2001, two innovations debuted in America. One was the Segway. A completely disruptive form of transportation, designed to change the way humans move through their environment.

The other was the Apple retail store. An extension of the design and tech capabilities that had already made Apple products so famous.

I don’t have to tell you the result of these two approaches to innovation. Setting aside the fate of Jimi Hedelsen, owner of Segway, it is true that today — and for quite some time — Apple store have the highest sales per square foot of any retailer, twice as high as Tiffany.

So here is an idea. Innovate around the edges. Innovate “at home.” There is a much higher probability of success, you’ll make your business healthier just by engaging in the process, and you will position yourself to build the core business of the future for your organization.


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