Disruptive innovation as a core business process


22 April 2005

Companies need to innovate relentlessly to even stand still in an increasingly global and competitive economy. No longer is it sufficient to deliver incremental improvements at a leisurely pace. Instead disruptive innovations of the type that fundamentally alters markets and business processes must be sought out and delivered regularly and predictably.

Disruptive innovation must become a core business process.

However, substantial innovation happens in the organizational white space between departments and functional units. The activities in these spaces are almost per definition unmeasured and unmanaged, and therefore not repeatable.

The approach described in our recent publication Actions for Enterprise Collaboration is a first step in making disruptive innovation a core business process. By providing objective measures and predictive categorizations of relationships, it allows organizations and their managers to actively stimulate and direct collaboration and innovation efforts.

The Team Assessment that we have specifically discussed in the paper is a very powerful tool in itself, but it can only be the beginning. Any process that is core to the business must be managed actively and continuously improved. Important challenges include:

Directing collaboration. The collaboration has a purpose, e.g. innovation. Eventually that purpose will become part of the group culture, but for some time direction will be needed.

This presents its own set of problems: telling people what to do and developing a spirit of community mixes like oil and water. It requires specific management skills like facilitation and a deliberate attention to the issue.

Integrating with business strategy. It is not unusual for the business to get more innovation than it can really handle. Is the rest of the organization geared up to a new speed of working?

Managing core process. You are building a new set of processes and capabilities. In scope, this is similar to M&A activity and should be planned accordingly. Especially extending the innovation across geographies and functional areas may require new tools and sometimes radically different working practices.

None of these issues are insurmountable, but they do require a coordinated and directed effort within a framework for disruptive enterprise innovation.