Innovation is Not Necessarily Disruptive

So, last week’s post Innovation is the opposite of what we’re pretending the word means hit a nerve; as it should. Some people quickly commented that disruptive and radical innovation is rare and that 99% of established organizations really pursue incremental innovation:

There is a common misconception that all innovation is and should be disruptive; it isn’t. And while I dislike making distinctions between Big Innovation and Small Innovation, the truth is most of what is innovative is of the routine type that just optimizes the current business model. Disruption, on the other hand, is thrown around as if everyone is doing it but the truth is it’s rare.

As you can see on the image below, from HBR’s You need an innovation strategy, there are many approaches to innovation:

you need an innovation strategy

Each one requires different approaches and capabilities, which I’ll discuss on another blog post, but you can see that transformative innovation comes from exploration; not from exploitation of the current business model.

Another way to look at this is by the “what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t know that you don’t know” perspective which HBR talks about as a simple tool you need to manage innovation:

tool you need to manage innovation

Hopefully these two tools help you and your team visualize your innovation strategy and start to think of creating a portfolio of initiatives that both optimize the core and explore the edge.

The biggest takeaway is that for established organizations to innovate they need to exploit and explore at the same time; meaning they have to keep optimizing the current business model while also exploring and creating new competencies and business models; do that and you’ll set your organization up for disrupting itself.