Clayton Christensen noted how, with disturbing frequency, market-leading companies tended to end up as footnotes in business journals as they were swept away by upstarts. With great insight, he tied their fates to disruptive innovation in his groundbreaking book, The Innovator's Dilemma, in 1997. Exhibit A: Digital Equipment Corporation, innovated out of their market-leading position by PCs.
I used to teach that book in the MBA program at Peking University, and there were always some interesting discussions -- beyond whether the dilemma was real or not -- about how to solve the dilemma. Is it solved? Can it be solved? Which solution is better? Christensen wrote a followup book on the subject, and many others have tackled the problem. There are some common themes, but still a lot of disagreement.
Now just this week my colleague Michael Dolenko, who co-heads our innovation group, forwarded a pretty good article by Alessandro Di Fiore and Elisa Farri of ECSI Consulting about how to innovate at large companies.
Their take is generally similar to what Christensen proposed, establishing Innovation as a Big Thing, with high-level executive support, then giving it some autonomy and money to play with.
But the details are different: Di Fiore and Farri recommend creating "a distinct Innovation Unit headed up by a senior executive who reports to the CEO." The tasks* of that executive might look kind of humdrum at first glance:
- Scan For and Support Best Practices
- Develop Employees’ Skills
- Support Your Business Units
- Identify New Market Spaces
- Help People Generate Ideas
- Provide Funding
- Design ‘Shelter’ for Innovations
Under each of those headings, though, are good ideas and examples about how to make this work in a real organization: the importance of tying innovations to a business unit; how to protect nascent innovations from "enemies"; and the future-growth logic of exploring new markets <shameless plug>something that Phase 5's innovation team does extraordinarily well</shameless plug>.
I recommend the whole article.
And if you like the topic of innovation, here are a couple of recent downloads:
- Benefits of conceptual prototyping (a case study from banking innovation)
- Problem-solving as the starting point (a mini case study from the semiconductor industry)
*The article seems confused about whether the Tasks are part of The Role, or whether the position has Roles which are Tasks, but we'll blame all that nomenclatural confusion on the headline writer.