The term ‘disruptive innovation’ appeared in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article ‘Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave,’ by Harvard Business School professor and business consultant, Clayton M. Christensen. In that article, ‘disruptive innovation’ was used to describe an innovative product or service that creates a new market, eventually going on to disrupt an existing market. Christensen used disruption to explain the seemingly consistent pattern of leading companies failing when technologies or markets change.
Today, the term ‘disruption’ has taken on a life of its own. It is now broadly and, often, mistakenly understood to simply mean innovation in an established market. But not all innovators are disruptive. The key for organisations looking to disrupt the status quo is to empower workers, or groups of workers, to be creative.
Creative inputs, be they generated within or without the organisation, can play a major role in disruption. Companies prepared to embrace the creative dynamic may be better placed to nurture a culture consistent with entrepreneurship.
A scalable delivery system can help companies use this creativity to be successful, regardless of the organisation’s size or age. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is a technology that can help, as it enables the fast and safe development and deployment of new products and services to market. PaaS can help make experimentation cheap and simple with self-service access to efficiently reuse existing system resources. This means that when an idea works, they can rapidly and confidently move to production.
Many large, established organisations invest in new, innovative technology to retain their existing customer-base, yet sometimes this isn’t the right technology to retain the customer long-term. According to Christensen, the trick is to commercialise innovative technology in anticipation of future market demand, rather than current demand. This is where the disruptors come in.
PaaS can help companies that source the creative crowd to be ready and waiting for the changing market demands the incumbents can’t meet. Organisations failing to do so risk ‘disruption envy’, despite their best efforts to remain relevant. The value of the creative element behind disruption shouldn’t be underestimated. For new entrants, creativity can play a major role. These companies may be better-placed to problem solve as they are unencumbered by years of accumulated historical baggage and complexity.
For the incumbents, culture is often the hardest thing to change. Competitive advantages such as a customer-base, proven processes, and informational assets may lose their edge if risk-taking is discouraged. This is the first symptom before disruption envy sets in, which, if left unchecked, can prevent the organisation from responding effectively to environmental challenges, potentially rendering it obsolete.
To inspire innovation, companies should set the conditions that reinforce desirable behaviours, such as teamwork, feedback, and experimentation. PaaS technology can help by empowering people with low cost, fast self-service access to the resources they need to test their ideas.
About the author
Stefano Picozzi is the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) business development manager, Australia and New Zealand with Red Hat.