Disruptive innovation. Digital transformation. Data is the new oil. Each of these familiar idioms in the modern business lexicon is a reminder of the head-spinning velocity of technological change and its enormous impact on business behavior and business models.
Clayton Christensen’s 1997 theory of disruptive innovation has guided business leaders ever since, including in a 2015 Harvard Business Review piece, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?,” in which he addresses the wide misunderstandings of the theory’s core concepts and illustrates why, for example, Netflix does or Uber does not precisely fit his definition of disruption.
Less theoretically, we can identify a set of operating principles and behaviors that are indicative of modern day disruptors. They fall into two categories, technology and process, and represent the behaviors of a broad range of business enterprises, from small businesses and nonprofits to established brands and Fortune 1000 corporations.
- Think and act like a tech start-up. At its core, the work of technology start-ups centers on the technologies they use to build their product, the customers they serve and the data they collect and analyze. In start-ups, funds are limited and time to market is of the essence. This led to a compelling need for access to open tools and platforms and to the robust communities that support open standards.
- Track and analyze data and customer feedback from day one. Start-ups are intrinsically closer to their audience. They thrive on market analysis and customer feedback to adapt product design and prototypes to market demands.
- Have an API strategy. Perhaps no other single technology is more closely tied to innovation and to the rise of digital business models than the Application Programming Interface (API), which allows software code to integrate with other systems. Virtually every tech start-up has a clear-cut API vision and strategy. Whether the strategy is to improve internal development operations or partner collaboration, or is part of a larger strategic platform vision, APIs are at the core of these endeavors.
- A data-driven, experimental enterprise. A modern technology stack, built on a foundation of readily available infrastructure components, agile development practices, APIs, platform features and data science, is the framework for supporting the exploration of opportunities.
- Create a mission, not a project. Senior leadership motivates high-performance teams. Their job is to communicate the importance and urgency of the mission, reinforcing the message as much as possible and getting everyone onboard and committed to achieving the goal.
- Streamlined internal process.Innovation teams don’t spend cycles navigating corporate bureaucracy. Teams have the backing of senior leadership who understand the inherent value of the iterative process and who mitigate standard administrative processes.
- Speed matters. Speed brings value. Given the disruptive nature of the digital economy, being fast and flexible in delivering product to customers and markets has never been more important. In many cases, if you can’t be a first mover or a fast follower for a product, your participation in the market hardly matters. Delivering and iterating quickly, and seamlessly, are vital to success in our technology driven era.
- Recruit the best talent, empower people. Successful innovation teams, those that move quickly and efficiently through iterations, experimentations and product delivery, are made up of the best talent.These individuals are not necessarily the smartest or best experts but the best athletes. Highly tuned teams are a blend of experts and generalists who are trusted decision makers.
If your organization has started along a digital transformation pathway, then some of the operating principles and behaviors outlined here will not be unfamiliar to you, and quite possibly are operating principles you’ve already adopted to your own disruptive innovation initiatives. Individually, each of the principles is an apt response to operating in our technology driven world, but what matters most is that they work best when applied together. Instilling these disruptor principles and behaviors as a combined force to drive a modern operating model will enable an organization to respond quickly and effectively to market opportunities and competitive threats.
Unlike what we learned about proper behaviors in grade school, disruptive behaviors, when managed effectively and with discipline, can accelerate business success in our digital economy.