Saturday, June 8, 2013

PL 11/13: Discontinuous innovation

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 2:47 pm

Organizations resist change. They are often right. If tomorrow is like today, no change is needed.

If tomorrow will be slightly different from today, only moderate change will be needed.

  • Students carry laptops, but so what?
  • The organization can adjust to improved technologies and moderate shifts in user behavior.
  • Nothing radical is called for.

But if tomorrow will be radically different, danger knocks on the door.

  • Kodak is no longer a big player.
  • Digital photography was a a case of discontinuous innovation.
  • When DI knocks, the organization must remake itself or collapse.

In Great Britain, a public research institute (now defunct) used to translate management reseach into practical advice. I like their smallish pamphlet aimed at executives(who are too busy to read the research literature):

In a fast moving world, one of the biggest challenges facing organisations is dealing with discontinuous innovation (DI). Most organisations understand that innovation is an organisational imperative. They learn to listen to customers and constantly evolve their existing products and services, continuously improve their processes, so that they are not left behind by competitors.

The ability to deal with this steady state type of innovation – the constant storms of change within an industry – is essential. Every so often, however, a whirlwind blows through an industry – whether caused by regulatory or political change, a technology, or a product, so radically different that it changes the shape of an industry completely and in doing so puts many existing, successful companies out of business.

This briefing document focuses on that search skill. By looking at what some leading organisations are doing in this area it suggests 12 different strategies for developing  a search capability to detect triggers of discontinuous innovation

The twelve search strategies are:

Strategies 1-3

  1. Sending out scouts: Dispatch idea hunters to track down new innovation triggers.
  2. Exploring multiple futures: Use scenario planning techniques to envisage possible futures; then take action.
  3. Using the web: Harness the power of the web, through online communities, and virtual worlds, for example, to detect new trends.

Strategies 4-6

  1. Working with active users: Team up with knowledgeable product and service users to see the ways in which they change and develop existing offerings.
  2. Deep diving: In consumer research, study what people actually do, rather than what they say they do.
  3. Probe and learn: Get the hands dirty early on, by prototyping quickly and often  rather than spending ages planning.

Strategies 7-9

  1. Mobilise the mainstream: Activate users within the workforce – bring them into the product and service development process.
  2. Corporate venturing: Create venture units and give them sufficient freedom  and resources to do their job.
  3. Corporate entrepreneuring and intrapreneuring: Discover and nurture the entrepreneurial talent inside the organisation.

Strategies 10-12

  1. Use brokers and bridges: Cast the ideas net far and wide; plunder other industries.
  2. Deliberate diversity: Create diverse teams and a diverse workforce to help challenge your assumptions.
  3. Idea generators: Use creativity tools, and in a way that encourages, rather than squashes, creativity.



  • The Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM) develops UK-based world-class management research.
  • AIM seeks to identify ways to enhance  the competitiveness of the UK economy and its infrastructure through research into management and organisational performance in both the private and public sectors.
  • This Executive Briefing reports on work going on within an international network of companies and researchers

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