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Disruptive Innovation: Rarely Supported by Good Managers

Posted by Joe Antle on August 17, 2018 4:50 PM EDT
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The second element of disruptive innovations is that they are almost never supported by.....

...well-trained and successful managers.  This is one of the key "dilemmas" in Dr. Clayton Christensen's work and his initial book on disruptive innovation titled "The Innovator's Dilemma".  Common sense would suggest that if managers are successful then surely they would be the first ones to identify and embrace innovations of all kinds, especially those that are disruptive and can create entirely new markets and capture new consumers or customers.

Reason would say that managers' jobs are tied to constantly seeking creative and effective solutions and to help their companies take the lead on innovation.  Why would managers not get the opportunities that disruptive innovation can bring to their operations and companies?  Are they arrogant...not sensitive to what is going on?  How can this be?

Dr. Christensen's research reveals why this "dilemma" is so prevalent among successful companies that have leading positions in their industries.  And when their good managers ignore or dismiss the disruptive innovation and the previously dominant incumbent companies they serve begin to fail and try to catch up with the "disruptive innovator", it's often too late.

Think of all the industries that didn't see the disruptive innovation as a worthwhile venture?  Why didn't Kodak or Panasonic "get" digital photography?  Why didn't Samsung or Motorola not "get" the handheld smartphone?  Why didn't railroads "get" automobiles?  Or NCR or Compaq or Wang Computers not "get" personal computers?  

The answer, as simple as it is, proves to be as obvious as can be when you really think about it.  The reason good managers and great companies that are built to last almost never "get" the next big thing is because the next big thing looks like an inferior product or service to anything they have known or that their best customers would want to have or pay for.  Usually, the competition is framed around improving products and services which often makes them more sophisticated (or complex), more affordable (or cheap), more convenient (or simple/dull) or unproven (or not tested).  Thus, good managers are trained to hit their numbers, achieve key goals, focus on customer needs, beat the competition and are never, ever encouraged to chase dumb ideas that their best customers would laugh at.

Simply said, good managers, are paid and are promoted based on their ability to do good projections and to execute well on tried and true principles making good products better and serving existing customers and those that are like them more satisfied with the products and services that they are already buying.  Good managers are rarely trained and rewarded for not producing products that are as great as they can be.  In fact, the principle of good enough isn't good enough to them.

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