Ever since Clayton Christensen wrote his book The Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997, it has been accepted as a fact that companies will fail if they don’t disrupt themselves first. Over time there have been attacks on this nice template for business innovation. The first was from Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian who took issue with Christensen’s book, and with the whole circus of innovation consultants and conferences that arose from it. In an article for The New Yorker she described disruptive innovation as ‘a competitive strategy for an age seized by terror’. A number of members of academia have followed up on this by pointing out that not all the disrupters Christensen lauded survived, and not all the disrupted incumbents disappeared.
The lesson of this discussion is simply that generalized rules for innovation strategy do not seem to apply, as Peter Diamandis shows. Described by FT as ‘the self-appointed high-priest of digital disruption’ and co-author of the book Bold, he coined the idea that a bold entrepreneurial strategy has to be based on a vision of exponential growth. By his reasoning, ‘linear’ organizations are doomed. However, he created XPrize in 1996 in order to encourage privately funded space travel, and it has still not exponentially taken off, whatever Peter Diamandis may believe.
At the same time, a bold incumbent does not always have to destroy its core business to survive. The boldest companies, new or long established, are the ones with a forward-looking policy of constant innovation and creativity based on genuine interest in the early warnings and weak signals from users and customers. A strategy that can lead to innovation, instead of glancing over their shoulders at competitors.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Thomas Gad, excerpted from his book Customer Experience Branding, with permission from Kogan Page publishing.
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