What do you think of when you hear the word disruption? Maybe a start-up with a lofty, if not somewhat unattainable, idea. Perhaps any number of Apple product launches. Or perhaps, in these times, your home internet going out right before a Zoom call.
In the start-up and tech world, the word disrupt is often presented to delineate an innovative idea. Disruption is not synonymous with innovation. Sure, Airbnb completely changed the hospitality industry in undeniably innovative ways, but it also caused negative effects on local neighborhoods and housing markets. Sometimes, even with the best intentions, disruption exits innovation terrority and enters dysfunction territory.
Inventive Innovation or Disruptive Innovation?
But, if you are in the throes of creating something new and innovative, you must decide: do you want to be an inventive innovator or a disruptive innovator?
Despite its ubiquity in its use for products, ideas, and processes that produce fundamental change, disruption in this context does have a full name: disruptive innovation. It was first described by Clayton Christensen in 1995 and thoroughly explained in his groundbreaking 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma.
What’s often overlooked is that innovation takes many forms, and it isn’t always disruptive. Just because you don’t break and remake markets doesn’t mean you’re not an innovator. That quest to completely break and rebuild often leads to failure. Oftentimes, innovation doesn’t look like disruption at all – it’s a silent hero giving us new and better ways to do things without us even realizing it. I think of my own community at SailPoint, and how our team has taken a leap into global, widespread remote work without hardly a moment of disruption in innovation, productivity or customer service.
Simply put: there are healthy and unhealthy ways to (try to) create change.
Tech at large has been under the microscope for its boundary-crossing innovations – from increasing privacy concerns to security risks. On the other hand, it has enabled us to operate more globally and efficiently.
What do you want to be known for?
So, as you shape the future of the technology or service you provide, think about the kind of innovation for which you want to be known. Are you aiming for iterative innovation or true disruption? In our case, we want to disrupt, but not leave a path of dysfuntion in our wake. It’s the old, “leave it better than you found it,” idea, which means finding better ways to deliver solutions to our customers, without, ideally, leaving a mess in our wake. After all, we strive to be the kind of parter whose customers constantly look to us to solve their problems before they know it’s even a problem for them.
So choose carefully what kind of innovator you want to be ahead of time, and hopefully, you can create real value for your community without leaving disfunction behind you.