Unmanned automobiles, drone delivery, smart contact lenses — the pace of discovery has accelerated to the point where concepts that until recently seemed like science fiction are quickly becoming reality. While conventional innovation takes place regularly all around us, truly disruptive innovation is scarce, and it has the potential to have a much greater impact on companies, industries and the world. Disruptive innovation has the power to wipe out long-established businesses and place multi-billion dollar valuations on nimble entrants to the category so disruptive innovation needs to be embraced.
Consider, for instance, the example of digital photography. It’s something we take for granted today, but 40 years ago we had fixed-lens cameras, film cartridges, flash bulbs and three-day processing at a local drug store. Then, upon picking up an envelope with two dozen snapshots, we’d find three grainy prints worth keeping. Today we carry cameras — and phones too — that can take high-resolution photos and record high-definition video; cameras that let us see the images instantly and share those images around the world. The growth of digital photography, and the way it has impacted the existing players in the space, is a perfect example of disruptive innovation changing an industry.
Here are five strategies to help you enable disruptive innovation:
- Think big
really big. Incremental innovation is not going to change the game — it takes radical thinking to create a new industry, so you’ll need to question everything your company accepts as fact. In the insurance industry, we accept catastrophes as mostly unpredictable disasters, but what if we questioned their origins? Can we prevent or divert hurricanes or tornadoes? Can we prevent fire or flood damage? Thinking about what you want to accomplish — and ignoring the question of whether it may or may not be possible — is a key step toward disruptive innovation.
- Learn to fail. Disruptive innovation is hard, but in order to achieve it, you have to be prepared to frequently fail. Our first attempts at disruptive innovation found us testing concepts that were relatively safe and didn’t fail, but we didn’t change the world, either. By moving down our list of prioritized ideas to concepts that were a little more radical, we’ve started to explore some amazingly innovative concepts, and failure is not unusual.
- Learn from failure and pivot. Once you fail, it shouldn’t necessarily be the end to exploring an idea. The best solutions may require testing of multiple iterations and the end result may bear little resemblance to the original concept.
- Explore in new places. Look not only to your competitors but also to adjacent and even unrelated industries. There are many stories of concepts, originally developed for one solution, being repurposed for completely unrelated situations. Consider those stories and then look through a new lens at your own resources and challenges.
- Think about putting your business out of business. This one’s easy because if you’re not thinking about ways to do this, I guarantee someone else is. Anticipate change and face it head on. Failure to address your challenging issues will only open the door for others to exploit your weaknesses.
Matt Manzella is a director of technology and operations at Allstate.