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The "Third Way" Could Be The Right Way

Posted by Chip Block on September 7, 2018 11:40 AM EDT
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A few weeks ago I wrote about the "practical applications" potential for innovations that seemd to be addressed in a book I had just started to read, called....

..."The Power of Little Ideas", written by David Robertson and Kent Lineback.  My interest in this book was that it proposed a strategic approach or path to bold innovations that would not be too disruptive, would be lower risk and lower cost and that could benefit from and provide benefit to core products and services.  As both Joe and Thomas have written in previous blogposts, it is the high risk and the uncertainty of disruptive innovations that almost always deters leaders from embracing and jumping into opportunities for applying innovation in a more substantial way than simply making modest and incremental ("sustaining") innovations to existing core products and services.

Given that background, and the book's premise, I jumped right in.  This past week I have finished reading the book and happily report it was well worth the effort and time.  More than that, it delivered on the premise of the book's subtitle of "A Low-risk, High Reward Approach to Innovation".

As Joe wrote in the opening introduction to his initial blog on Disruptive Innovation, "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"? 

Then, he went on to write more about the topic of disruptive innovation, explaining in classic laymen's terms what the concept is, where it works and doesn't work and some thoughts from the research as to why it is often not pushed forward by successful companies that have core products and services that drive their success and to which it is difficult as good managers to justify "betting the farm" on the "golden goose".  Often what happens, Joe wrote, is that the incumbent successful companies don't react or jump ahead of a disruptive innovation opportunity until it's too late and something disruptive occurs, typically bold changes in technology, marketplace factors or consumer taste changes or all of those factors.  The research, books and

Joe's introductory blog suggested a number of factors for this phenomenon, but the leading reason is good managers are not focused on taking big bets on new disruptive opportunities that are barely "good enough" to get the job done for non-customers.  Rather, good managers are rewarded for successfully continuing progress based on the products and services that are working and that their best customers are paying for..often driving more and more complexity through increased functionality and features.  Inevitably, this increases prices thus reducing the market for the incumbent solution in terms of serving the majority of potential non-customers.

Then the disruptive innovation takes hold and by the time the successful companies realize the disruptive innovation is going to stay and be a competitive threat, it is too hard for them to react and gain a competitive advantage.  Joe's reading and research, and his thirty years as a traditional local media executive, place him the the firm position of having witnessed and learned the lessons of experience.  Newspapers missed the opportunity to provide tools for local markets based on jobs to be done theory, such as:  community engagement and self-expression (Facebook/Twitter), local shopping for overstocked goods (eBay), local e-commerce opportunities for new goods and services (Amazon), software to help advertisers and non-advertisers run their businesses better (Red Hat and and easy ways to help people find interesting local information through the web (Google).  And so it goes...

Without dwelling further on the excellent initial blog post Joe wrote which gave a useful and reasonably coherent explanation of the fundamentals of disruptive innovation, I will address its fundamental premise.  And I'll suggest in this blog that the book, "The Power of Little Ideas" offers a powerful antidote to the notion that good managers don't embrace true, bold innovation until it's too late.  Finally, I'll close with listing the four key elements of "The Third Way" that is promoted by the book and its authors.

On the book's cover is written a powerful statement that truly captures the essence of the book.  After reading the book, I am thankful for the depth and examples based in empirical research that underlie the core concept as written on the book's cover.  As they say, magic is in the details.  Nonetheless, I now reprint the key statement that is on the book's cover because it is an excellent synopsis of the book's core message.

"A powerful Third Way between disruptive and incremental innovation.  Thre is a big flaw in innovation thinking today-a false dichotomy.  Conventional wisdome says that to survive, companies must move beyond incremental, sustaiing innovation and invest in soe form of radical innovation"

"Don't be fooled.  The Power of Little Ideas shows there is a Third Way that is neither sustaining nor disruptive, but is, in its essence, complementary".

"This low-risk, high-reward strategy is one that all managers and executives must understand and prctice in order to achieve competitive advantage in today's dynamic economy.  This distinctive approach has three key elements:"

"1. It creates a "family of complementary innovations" around a product or service, all of which work together to make that product or service more appealing and competitive.

2. These complementary innovations form a system designed to carry out a single strategy or promise.

3. Crucially, unlike disruptive or radical innovation, innovating around a key product doesn ot change that product in any fundamental way."

Let me also say, that much in the way that the research and writing on disruptive innovation captures a variety of features or characteristics that define the concept of disruptive innovation, so also the authors and researchers who wrote this book define also four basic steps or "decisions" that leaders of companies seeking to leverage innovation around core products.  They usually do this either to bolster the core product, create a much more compelling and integrated offering or leverage the core product to create more value for the "complementary innovations" surrounding it. 

Much as Joe did in his introductory blog, I'll finish with a list of the key attributes or "decisions" the characterise successful and sustainable "Third Way" innovation.  I stop short of calling them principles, however.  And much as Joe is doing week-to-week in his follow-on blogs, I plan to go into a little more detail about each of these "decisions" in follow-on blog posts.  And when appropriate, I'll try to 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.

"Third Way" Innovation "Decisions":

Decision 1:  What Is Your Key Product?

Decision 2:  What is Your Business Promise?

Decision 3: How Will You Innovate?

Decision 4:  How Will You Deliver Your Innovations?


Look for me to intersperse blogs on each of these "decisions" amongst the blogs Joe has been publishing related to "Disruptive innovation characteristics".  And please stay tuned...!

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