Entrepreneurship never sleeps.

The phenomenon of disruption occurs when successful firms fail because they continue to make the choices that drove their success. In other words, it does not apply when firms are poorly managed, complacent, fraudulent, or doing things differently because they are now shielded by barriers to competition. To be sure, firms can fail because of those circumstances, but that is not what we mean by disruption. (...) a “disruptive event” occurs when a new product or technology enters the market, causing successful firms to struggle. (...) an organization strains most to assimilate new architectural knowledge when it has been successfully focused on exploiting innovations based on the previous architecture.

The key to dealing with disruption is to understand that it emerges surrounded by uncertainty. While hindsight often suggests that certain disruptive events were obvious, this is far from clear when those events are emerging. (...) Some firms may be shielded from disruptive events because they possess key complementary assets, the value of which is not changed and may be enhanced by those events.

Self-disruption was proposed by Christensen as a means of proactively avoiding the consequences of demand-side disruption. The idea is that the firm takes control of disruption by charging a new division with the competitive role that would otherwise be taken by a new entrant. While establishing an independent new division can appear to be an effective response, firms often fail to translate it into successful and sustainable models as they kick the dilemmas associated with disruption down the road. Managerial conflicts emerge, and established firms find themselves unable to resolve them effectively.

If a firm wants to ride out continual waves of disruption, it needs to maintain organizational structures that preserve and can evolve architectural knowledge. Integration and continual coordination of component-level teams in product development has been shown to be an effective way to avoid existential threats to successful firms. But what has not been appreciated is that integration and coordination stand diametrically opposed to the independence and self-disruption mantra many firms have adopted to mitigate disruptive risks. It stands to reason that if your problem is how the parts fit together, adding another unit charged with doing its own thing is not going to solve it.

Dealing with disruption to ensure a successful and sustainable business involves more than just taking some additional bets with autonomous units that may get you slightly ahead of the game. (...) you need to bake your response to disruption into your mainline organization. The dilemma you face is that betting on sustainability is not without cost to short-run competitive advantage and profitability. Not all businesses will take the same path. However, once you have gone through the journey of disruption—its intellectual history, its practical reality, and the way leaders have dealt with it—you will have the two paths clearly laid out for you. What you do at that point is up to you.


Constant variation.

Most successful big-company innovators I met, whether Chief Innovation Officers, innovation team members or people without an innovation job title but who are tackling a big change project for the first time, have something in common: they respect the organisation they work for, but they don't revere it. As innovators, they want their businesses to do better, but at the same time they are dissatisfied with the status quo. There's a kind of 'love-hate' going on. But too much love and an innovator becomes an ineffective 'yes-man'. Too much hate and he or she ends up an ineffective loner.

It's a delicate balancing act. I describe someone who effectively manages it as a 'Captain One Minute, Pirate the Next'. One minute the innovation leader is the Captain, the passionate man-with-the-plan, standing tall on the bridge of the ship and inspiring us all to go 'this way'. But the next time you meet, the Captain has morphed into a Pirate. This time he or she is down to the boiler room, sleeves rolled up, shipmates gathered around, using all of his or her cunning to shortcut a process, to subvert the system. Now our protagonist is asking really challenging questions: 'What if we did it differently? What if we ripped up the way things are done around here? What if?'

So one minute an innovation leader is stubbornly sticking to the big picture; the next he or she is telling you not to sweat the small stuff. I think this intriguing mix of vision and cunning comes from the fact that successful innovators are fixated by outcomes. They are highly motivated to make change happen - so much so that they're often less bothered about how they get there.