When was the last time you tried to disrupt your organisation? Actually, perhaps before I go much further I’d better clarify that question a little. I’m not talking here about the sort of disruption currently being faced by Volkswagen, which has had to initiate a critical review of all planned investments following the recent emissions scandal. Commenting on this the new chief executive, Matthias Müller said;
“to be perfectly frank: this will not be a painless process.”
Interestingly, VW are showing that despite the crisis they still retain one eye on the future development of the company. So whilst predicting the need for massive savings, Matthias Müller also said that;
“we cannot afford to economise on the future.”
However, whilst VW are undoubtedly facing disruption, it is far from the sort of disruptive activity which is associated with cultures of innovation.
True disruptive innovation creates a new market and value network, eventually disrupting or replacing existing products and services. When we talk about disruptive innovation it is common for us to speak about disruption in terms of new players entering the marketplace; for example, challenger banks taking market share from longer established players. So we talk about the way in which businesses need to be prepared for disruption, the way in which their biggest rival may not even have been established yet, or the impact of new technology changing customer demand.
But if businesses spend all their time looking over their shoulder at potential disruptors, they are ignoring the greatest chance they have to become market leaders and future shapers. There is nothing in the rule book which says that businesses shouldn’t seek to be self-disruptors and to create the future marketplace.
It’s a topic which we cover in our forthcoming book* and it is one which Peter Diamandis commented on in a LinkedIn article in March 2015 which he opened with the comment;
“If you aren’t disrupting yourself, someone else is.”
In the article, Peter shares the way in which ‘going skunk’ can help businesses to become their own disruptors. Originating in World War II from a project group set up by the Lockheed Corporation, going skunk refers to the way in which corporations can give a small group of people virtual freedom to work on, and develop, a project in a perhaps unconventional way. It’s an approach which is still used effectively by organisations such as Apple but it does require commitment and faith on the part of organisational leaders.
In his article, Peter Diamandis identifies four essential features of skunk projects, namely; big goals, team isolation, rapid iteration and intrinsic rewards. In other words, you are looking for your team to focus and to work hard and fast on challenging projects. The idea of skunk projects can seem counterintuitive to those who believe that innovation should come with organisation wide collaboration but in truth you wouldn’t focus your innovation efforts solely on skunk projects.
However, on the other extreme if you simply tinker at the edges of solutions with purely incremental innovation then you are leaving the door wide open to others to create the leaps forward which may significantly change your marketplace. So the question remains, if you think that you are an innovative organisation, when was the last time that you tried to disrupt the status quo. If the answer is never, then it may be time to look again at whether your innovation mix is going to lead and shape the future.
* “Building a Culture of Innovation – A Practical Framework for Placing Innovation at the Core of Your Business” Written by Cris Beswick, Derek Bishop and Jo Geraghty the book is being published by Kogan Page on 3rd December 2015 and is available for pre-order now.