In a world where competitors, strategic partners and customers are focused on innovation and how it will improve their lives, it makes sense for leaders to do the same thing in our companies. However, we need to recognize the differences between different types of innovation – and commit not just to the low hanging fruit but also the transformative changes.
Generally, innovation focuses on people, products/services and/or processes. Today’s car-sharing services (e.g., Uber Lyft, etc.) affects all three customers order differently and the drivers operate differently (i.e., their own businesses). The process is involves using an app to have transportation come to you rather than you go out to where cabs travel. The product differs in the quality of the transportation experience, including knowing how much it costs before entering the vehicle. Innovation come in two styles: incremental and disruptive (transformative); ask any yellow-cab owner, and you’ll hear that car-sharing services are transformative.
What’s important to understand is that innovation creates an inevitable tension for company leaders. They are responsible for building and executing a strategy. Execution means cascading the goals from one level down to the next and creating a supportive culture to enable each member/team to achieve their objectives, especially when the inevitable speed bumps and road blocks get in the way. If at the same time they want to be innovative, they can’t be disruptive, because that would disrupt the elements that make for success. So leaders resolve to focus on incremental innovations – and put their energies in helping creative an innovative, incremental culture. People’s skills ae upgraded, products improved, processes made efficient and/or effective.
But transformations require disruptive thinking. Henry Ford realized that people wanted faster transportation than was available with existing horse and carriages. Incremental innovations would take the form of lighter carriages, faster wheels, superior horses; a disruptive “horseless” carriage meant an automobile. The key to such disruptive thought is for leaders to be curious and explore options outside the current frame-of-reference. They know that these innovators cannot be concerned with executing the current business strategy.
Leaders need to be self-aware of the conflict between growing through innovation while maintaining the status quo. It takes a commitment to explore for disruption and develop a structure where they are separated from the day-to-day activities and supervised by someone who nurtures and protect their efforts (often referred to as the “skunk-works” project.)
Are you committed to exploring all your opportunities? Share how you launch disruptive technologies.