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Key Elements of Disruptive Innovation

Posted by Joe Antle on July 21, 2018 4:15 PM EDT
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These days we hear a lot about innovation.  It's almost a buzz word of sorts.  But we hear much less about "disruptive innovation".  So, what is "disruptive" innovation....

...and how can we understand the components of it and apply them for competitive advantage in business and improved results in social economics and organizational development?

Let me begin with a disclaimer right at the outset.  I'm not an expert in disruptive innovation by any means.  But I will say I am a great fan of the power of it to create "orders of magnitude" in terms of results for organizations of all sizes, maturities and in markets and society overall.  While admitting I am not an expert in disruptive innovation, but as a fan of the concept I can tell you that I have read all of Dr. Clayton Christensen's books about disruptive innovation, including his book addressing how to apply the concept to the healthcare crisis, called "The Innovator's Prescription". 

During my media career, I read his amazing three-part series of books, beginning with "The Innovator's Dilemma" and followed by "The Innovator's Solution" and "Seeing What's Next".  In addition, I read and attended seminars on his work with others in his consulting company on applying the principles of disruptive innovation to the newspaper industry.  This truly insightful work was funded by the American Press Institute during the critical years of 2006 through 2009.  It yielded two excellent reports, books in themselves actually with one of them being 116 pages and the other over 90 pages.  These reports were a deep dive into helping newspaper leaders understand how disruptive innovation could help them find new purposes and revenue and profit streams during a time in which they were beginning to experience massive disruptive forces in their industry.  The two volumes were cleverly and appropriately titled "NewspaperNext" and then the second issue was called "NewspaperNext2.0"-an especially powerful "double entendre" of sorts for the follow-up version and the emerging age of social media.  Lastly, I have had the opportunity to read a number of Dr, Christensen's interesting articles in Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review and in other business-centered journals.

Given the disclaimer that I am not a disruptive innovation expert, yet I have invested much time in reading and studying the concept and in my ongoing work trying to find ways to apply its principles to opportunities that I see all around.  I am hopeful that readers of this blog and my esteemed blogger colleagues, Thomas Edwards and Chip Block, on the HealthETeams Support Group blog web profile will find my opinions have merit and some basis for consideration.

This blog is the first in a series.  This particular entry will lay out the foundation for the other blog posts to follow.  I will not try to explain the concept in all its detail in this blog, or even the others blog posts that will follow.  However, I will try to establish a moderate understanding of how I think about the concept and what it's key principles are that stand in my mind as applicable to the improvements that can be possible as it relates to improving population health.  And in the spirit of the focus of our HealthETeams Support Group mission, any viewpoint I will present related to applying the key concepts of disruptive innovation to the healthcare crisis will focus entirely on the "demand side" of healthcare (consumers), not the supply side (providers, manufacturers, and facilities). Although our collective focus-Thomas, Chip and me- is on the demand side, I believe that there are even greater opportunities for progress through applying.  (Note:  For readers who really want to understand at a very fundamental level how the concept of disruptive innovation can be applied to the supply side, I recommend wholeheartedly the purchase and reading of Dr,. Christensen's book, "The Innovator's Prescription").

Now, let me lay out the elements of disruptive innovation that I believe give the concept its structure and composition.  In Dr. Christensen's writing, the thing that impacts me is that the idea of innovation is actually made up of two kinds of innovation-sustained innovation and disruptive innovation.  When I hear and read about others applying the idea of innovation to a problem or a project or product or service, I generally think they are describing what Christensen would call "sustained innovation".  To me, the idea of sustained innovation is very important, but it is a bold improvement perhaps an invention or a re-engineering effort that produces a dramatic improvement in an existing process, product, delivery or strategy.  In large measure, sustained innovations are important and often seen as more attractive for leaders to embrace for they don't necessarily change the composition of an industry.  Rather, they bring competitive advantage of some sort and thus are highly-valued by leaders, because most leaders at the core are managers.  And managers highly value creative and innovative improvements on things that they believe will improve the value proposition and results that the organization they lead can produce.

Not so with disruptive innovation.  Disruptive innovation often focuses on the non-consumer market and it pushes against the conventional wisdom of most leaders, who are also good managers.  For disruptive innovation often makes no sense to these leaders.  Its essence is to go against the grain and to push actions into space where there is absolutely no evidence in their collective experience, education or strategy that there will be a success of any sort-much less success that could disrupt the state of their very industry.  So, disruptive innovation has massive power-and Christensen cites many examples that all readers will be familiar with in looking back on various breakthroughs.  Yet, when considering such things in advance, for most great leaders who are also great managers who are trained and compensated on not wasting time and money, on getting predictable and positive "incremental improvements and results" and whose organizations count on them to not lead them astray, jumping headlong into a disruptive innovation idea or "crossing the chasm" to another way of working or competing makes no sense at all.

Instead, when faced with a disruption or a disruptive idea or opportunity to leverage, good leaders who are also good managers will almost always shape it into a sustained innovation.  They will reduce the boldness and try to keep aspects of it intact so that they can apply it to current organizational problems, societal woes and opportunities as breakthrough improvement in the context of what they can see, understand or believe their organizations cn execute well on.

I'll finish with a list of the key attributes or aspects of disruptive innovation.  I stop short of calling them principles, however.  My follow-on blogs, which will likely be interspersed over the next few weeks amongst those written by Thomas and Chip, will go into a little more detail about each of these-and especially offer some ideas for how each of these may be applied somehow to the objective of reducing demand or consumption of traditional healthcare products and services by improving population health.

Disruptive Innovation Attributes:

1. Disruptive innovations drive consumption from non-consumers

2. Disruptive innovations are rarely supported by good managers

3. Disruptive innovations are often very low cost, or free

4. Disruptive innovations are much simpler, not complex

5. Disruptive innovations are easier for non-consumers to access

6. Disruptive innovations often work better than more expensive ones

7. Disruptive innovations are dependent on "overshot markets"

8. Disruptive innovations often "erupt" during times of disruption in economies, technology, governmental policies or changes in human conditions

Stay tuned...!

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