So, there is a lot of drama going on about this Lepore—Christiansen spat on the cover of the New Yorker. Well I have to say, while it makes for a somewhat interesting read we may be at real risk of missing the key point. And that is that “innovation” is not married to “disruption.”
And because that marriage is primarily the title of a thought provoking book that elicited a pretty interesting article in response, I thought I’d break down some key takeaways trying to figure what the hell to do with all this Lepore—Christiansen “disruption.”
1. Innovation stands on its own. In the article Lepore makes a point that innovation is just a marketing phrase taking the place of the once over-used word “progress.” With that I must disagree. Innovation is not an outcome—it’s a practice. It is characterized in how an individual, team or organization approaches the continual solving of a problem where they assume that the problem needs to be continually solved, or more appropriately adapted. In fact “an innovation” is often an outcome, when users adopt it en masse.
2. No one wants to be disrupted. Of course that doesn’t mean that people don’t get disrupted. And Lepore makes that really personal when she highlights her own lack of interest in her job in journalism being disrupted. But the reality is disruption happens, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The question is how our organizations become responsive to disruption. The answer is by having an innovation practice that allows your organization to be more resilient (another buzz word!) to change.
3. Disruption is best when it’s constant. I was with Ward Cunningham (inventor of the wiki) one day discussing a particular corporation’s affinity for “disruptive innovation.” He made a great comment about this corporation’s internal culture, saying, “No one wants disruptive innovation, instead we want a continual supply of minimal disruption.” And they’re right. So, if you are trying to disrupt your team, employees or customers you are likely going to fail. Innovation has a cycle and you have to nurture people through it.
4. It has to have a purpose. A point Lepore does make well, although with too great of a generalization, is the fact that good disruption requires morals. I would call that purpose and indicate that the best disruptions are rarely driven by a single company and instead are the product of a community of likeminded people driven to see real change. Examples include the Arab Spring, the work of Caesar Chavez and migrant workers across the US, or Tim Berners Lee and an international army of developers. Without purpose, your disruption will just be a black eye in the history books.
5. Don’t develop a business strategy on a book title. All too often a phenomenally compelling book comes out and grabs the collective attention of business leaders. And in a moment of group think we each start changing our organization’s strategy to fit this trend. Well don’t. Instead, read lots of books and more importantly talk to your people. It is your customers, staff and partners that have the best advice. By listening to them you can exercise better judgment when choosing a strategy for your context.
If you are grappling with Lepore or Christiansen’s writing I encourage you take a step back and contextualize the information. Likely, you are trying to understand how to apply this information to your own efforts. And in doing so you need to take the “disruption” out of the equation and focus instead on “innovation.”