Why Disruptive Innovation Is Not The Answer
Pragmatic, rather than disruptive innovation, is what is driving companies forward. There’s only one word that may be buzzier than “recession,” one that strikes even more fear into the hearts of executives across industries: It’s all about disruption these days, isn’t it?
I don’t think so. Just because disruption is taking place, it doesn’t mean that every innovation, system, or idea needs to be “disruptive” in response, particularly now.
Stop thinking disruptively
Many leaders are fond of statements like, “Shoot for the moon,” but, unless you are in the business of space exploration, this is totally useless.
As companies are on the hunt for billion-dollar ideas, the concept of moonshots takes precedence over small, measurable milestones. In the process, teams often lose touch with reality, lack accountability, focus on the high-tech flavor of the month, miss out on clear opportunities to innovate, and, in the end, fail.
As I write in “Fearless Innovation”, more often than not, “thinking disruptively” is counterproductive nonsense. It is not applicable in most settings. Relying on “disruption” as a strategy or plan immediately creates a mindset that your company needs to have a magical billion-dollar idea that alters the foundation of everything — a cataclysmic burst of creativity that creates a new world. As you can imagine, these events are very rare.
Don’t start big. Start small.
I fully admit that “pragmatic innovation” isn’t the sexiest term, but it best describes the process that is core to innovation: creating a bold vision and strategy, setting reasonable goals, and executing that vision and strategy in small, measurable milestones.
Pragmatic, practical innovation is all that counts. Measurable execution over time creates experience, credibility, and impactful innovation.
Go gradually and steady
Corporate innovation requires gradual, steady progress, each step building on the previous one. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this step-by-step process will get your product or service to market faster in the end, and with much better odds of success.
Instead of demanding and chasing elusive billion-dollar ideas, you’ll be producing results that make sense for your business. Remember, innovation comes down to execution, not disruption. And contrary to popular belief, executing an innovation strategy doesn’t always need to be complicated – in many ways it’s no different than any other project.
Start with the purpose, not the technology
As we tend to confuse disruption with innovation, we often assume that to make an impact, all innovation must be extremely high-tech. Nothing is farther from the truth, yet many are so scared of missing out on the latest, greatest tech, we forget that what we should really be focusing on is value.
Tech is not what solves problems – innovators do.
After speaking with hundreds of the most successful innovators around the globe, I am convinced: when we start with the basics, not the tech, we have a much more pragmatic vision of what we’re trying to accomplish and why. I believe that corporate innovators need to get over tech as a religion and innovate with a pragmatic purpose.
Of course, technology is important, but we must start with the clear problem we want to solve or the value we want to create for ourselves or others, then figure out how to get there. After all, that’s why we’re all here: companies make money by solving problems or by generating new value. Sometimes technology plays a role in meeting human needs and demands, and sometimes it doesn’t.
So, skip the glamour. To respond to and work with change, either big or small, focus on executing the best ideas, not the ones that have the fanciest names or the newest tech.
Iteration makes good innovation.
No matter how tech-heavy you are, innovation always improves on ideas of the past, making them relevant and useful today and into the future. Look around – at any given time, the most successful concepts have existed for years prior in one form or another.
As much as you look into the future, you should look to the past not only for the lessons learned, but for inspiration, to understand what’s happening around you, and develop a strategy that gets you closer to your goals.
If we confuse “disruption” with “innovation,” we miss the point. Innovation can lead to disruption and it can mitigate its effects, but the two are not one and the same.
We need to concentrate our efforts on executing our strategy and moving our metrics toward our goals. If we constantly search for disruption or a billion-dollar idea, we’ll lose out on the steady growth and market adjacencies that come from observing our environment, developing a comprehensive strategy, setting realistic goals, and executing actionable, measurable milestones. When we focus on pragmatic innovation, not disruption, we see real results add up. Of course, it doesn’t mean closing our eyes to reality and ignoring our environment – instead, we need to incorporate what we observe and lean into our own pragmatic innovation strategy.
This grounded approach might not be as glamorous as chasing elusive billion-dollar ideas, and it’s actually harder to implement since it’s a massive undertaking that forces accountability.
But in the end, pragmatic innovation creates a resilient organization that understands and recognizes disruption, while focusing on a balanced strategy through reasonable goals and execution in small, measurable milestones. That’s the organization that can survive, thrive and innovate.
This article originally appeared in CEO World Magazine on December 5, 2022