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Creating innovative and disruptive cultures

Written by Jan Cavelle on Thursday, 16 June 2022. Posted in Leadership, People

We have become obsessed with innovation and disruption. It is easy to confuse the two.  Disruption is always innovative, but innovation doesn't necessarily cause disruption. Both describe business evolution and are rooted in change.

Creating innovative and disruptive cultures

We have become obsessed with innovation and disruption. It is easy to confuse the two. Disruption is always innovative, but innovation doesn't necessarily cause disruption. Both describe business evolution and are rooted in change.

Twenty-odd years ago, innovation wasn't considered a big-buzzword business concept. Indeed, I remember a business awards organizer approaching me and begging me to add an entry for the company I was running at the time. It was proving a category impossible to find entrants for. Yet, innovation, thinking up new ideas for products, systems, or services to improve existing delivery and making your business more successful, should surely be a given for every business.

The phrase disruptive innovation came from American economist Clayton Christensen, who developed and shared the theory in his book The Innovator's Dilemma back in the 1990s. Up to that point, disruption was considered very negative concept, something that prevented us from operating "normally." Christensen re-framed disruption as a positive, as a way small companies could enter a marketplace with a radically different way of doing things. And disruptive innovation came into being. 

Doing things in entirely new ways is not a new concept, be it by innovating or disrupting – however fashionable. A little before Uber, for example, someone came up with a potter's wheel, made it lighter by creating spokes in the solid circle, and then attaching the circles to chariots and carts were pretty disruptive in their day. And, of course there is an endless and fascinating list of innovations during the industrial revolution, early industrial machinery, telecommunications, and power among them.

Yet currently, we all have a tendency to think of innovation and disruption as if they were entirely new concepts that have come into being alongside tech. Because of the speed tech is moving, business leaders are determined to be more innovative, and more disruptive to keep up with the fast-moving competition. But how?

The answer lies in two other, far more critical words – team and mindset. A team is crucial in two ways. Firstly, if you have an innovative team, there are more ideas in the pot, more brains coming up with new ideas and more chances of success. But there is a second reason why the team is so crucial. A team that is disinterested in innovation and sees it in the old "disruption/inconvenience" frame will actively resist new ideas. You could come up with the most incredible answer for new power, climate change, or to service your customers better – all will be greeted with sneers and negativity. How different from the innovative team who bounce up and down, get excited, and make their own additions and improvements!

The reaction is dependent on the team's mindset (and your customers, investors, and other stakeholders). If they can only see change in a negative context, they will inevitably fight it. People are afraid of the change itself, that it might go wrong and the unknown future could hold horrors far worse than the present. But most of all, they are scared of generating new ideas. Coming up with new ideas means putting your head up above the parapet and risking being laughed at or having them rejected. It is no different from the classroom. No one wants to risk volunteering contributions for the teacher.

Anything to do with tech is still particularly scary for many people. It is evolving at such a speed that even the experts don't have all the answers. That lack of control and lack of mastery is a petrifying concept. And those people who don't come from a background or generation in which tech was an everyday concept, may have deeply held deep beliefs that they cannot learn it. They become stressed in their conviction of failure and inadequacy and close their minds rather than try.

One answer is to offer tangible rewards for innovation. And that can work well with a small start-up filled with an excited team who are all highly involved and secure in their knowledge of what they are doing. But for other groups, what is needed goes beyond reward. Gold stars never got children’s hands flying up in the classroom either.

What is needed is a culture where it is safe to fail, where no one laughs at any idea, because every single person wants to progress and knows that trying out new ideas is the only way to achieve success. And there is only one way to do that.

Just as customers aren't bothered about trying a new product or service, people only become interested in a concept if it solves a problem that matters to them. When they concentrate on the tackling the problem, they start to forget about themselves. The focus is no longer on them and their ego is forgotten. And as ideas begin to flow, so does the excitement, and that excitement creates an entirely new, positive culture, one that will happily embrace the prospect of re-inventing the wheel.

About the Author

Jan Cavelle

Jan Cavelle

Jan Cavelle has several decades of founding micro and SME’s behind her and is now a freelance writer and author. Throughout her career, she has worked on various campaigns to support and encourage other entrepreneurs. Her first book is Scale for Success, Bloomsbury 2021.

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