5 reasons why disruptive innovation could be a bad choice for leaders

Disruptive innovation is all the go in the latest management advice.

Industries and companies are all in danger of being disrupted.

And what’s more if leaders don’t disrupt then they can risk the very existence of their business.

Their manliness (assuming the leaders are male) is almost called into question if they aren’t looking for or worrying about disruptive opportunities.

But there are some problems with this approach based on the conversations I have had with leaders of medium to large organisations over the past 10 years.

1. It is too big for many leaders to handle

Based on the work of Karl Weick many people when faced with a big challenge simply find it too intimidating.

I believe it is the same with disruptive innovation.

They are being asked to completely overturn everything they know, believe and has worked in the past.

This is often so challenging that a form of paralysis sets in which means that no innovation or change occurs.

Paradoxically the more the disruptive innovation is presented to them leaders are more inclined to follow the status quo.

2. Big ideas are often only visible in retrospect.

This is the wonderful insight of Dr Edward De Bono.

His theory is that our mind acts as a self-organising information patterning system (i.e. our mind thinks in familiar and well worn patterns of thought).

The only way to break this pattern is to deliberately move across to another pattern — hence his term lateral thinking.

By doing a new idea or solution can emerge.

But this is only obvious in retrospect.

I suspect it is exactly the same with disruptive innovation.

The disruptive innovation case studies highlighted by many proponents are obvious in retrospect.

But may not have been so clear at the time.

3. It ignores smaller opportunities

Disruptive innovation by its very nature is infrequent.

But what about the many small wins innovation opportunities to make the organisation a more productive and engaging place to work?

It could be a better, faster way to solve a client problem or send out invoices or make meetings more efficient.

If you only concentrated on disruptive innovations you would lose these opportunities.

And if you only work-out a muscle every few months or so it withers and loses its strength.

4. Disruptive innovation is risky, expensive and time-consuming.

Enough said.

5. Disruptive innovation rarely changes culture.

Because disruptive innovation is infrequent and involves say only 10% or less of the number of people in an organisation it has little or no effect on an organisation’s culture.

In summary:

Disruptive innovation has its place.

But it is not the only innovation strategy.

In fact, for many managers and leaders in medium to large scale organisations it could be a dangerous pathway and a more appropriate one could be following a small wins innovation approach.

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