Disruptive Innovation Rethought

Rethinking Disruptive Innovation

Last spring I wrote a series of blog posts on disruptive innovation as applied to libraries.  In it I discussed ways in which ways in which certain business thinking can be applied to the mission driven sector.  While I still stand by those ideas, I just read a New Yorker article that really made me think. The article questions the value of disruption in business by questioning the research on which disruptive innovation is based, namely the research of Clay Christenson, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Disruptive Innovation:  The Market is not Always Ready

The author makes some thought-provoking points, among them that disruptive innovation is not always successful because sometimes the market isn’t ready for a truly disruptive product.  This reminded me of the introduction of the ISO ILL standard in the late 1990s.  The marketplace (libraries) simply was not ready, and in an industry based on sharing a core group of partners had to be there in order to carry out the fundamental mission.

Disruptive Innovation and Failure

What I couldn’t fully grasp is if the author was arguing for an incremental model of innovation.  Does that still work in today’s world?  She argues that the “Logic of disruptive innovation is the logic of start ups”.  And as a point of fact, most start-ups fail.   “Disruptive innovation is a theory of why businesses fail.”  OK, I will buy that, but perhaps the focus should be less on success or failure and more on creativity?  Disruption is a process as opposed to a result–what if we think of it as simply casting side all preconceived notions and assumptions and looking at something in a completely new way? Certainly it can also lead to failure, but comfort with failure is the necessary flip side of innovation, and the possibility of failure needs to be embraced if we are to strive for true change.  And if one is trying to think in new ways about a problem does that not increase the likelihood that a solution will be found?

What Do Others Say About Disruptive Innovation?

This is indeed a provocative article, and there have been a number of responses to it.   Clay Christensen  himself responded in Businessweek; and others have responded in Slate, Forbes and The Boston Globe, to name a few.  As I work through my thoughts on this I would love to hear what others think about disruptive innovation.  Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

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