Home > Blog > Disruption: Rethinking Your Approach [Part 2]

May 9, 2017

Disruption: Rethinking Your Approach [Part 2]

By Mark DeYmaz

In 1995 Harvard Business Review published an article titled “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave,” by Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen. [1] The article has since become a seminal read on the future of business innovation, growth, and development. In fact, it is here that the concept of disruption, or more specifically, “disruptive innovation,” is first discussed and distinguished from what the authors call “sustaining innovation.” [2]

Disruptive Innovation

Whereas sustaining innovation seeks to maintain customer satisfaction, loyalty, and market share through incremental product improvement, “Disruptive innovation, a term coined by Clayton M. Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of the market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.” [3] In simpler terms, when research and development in successful companies is more focused on the present than the future, innovative adapters go to work off the grid, discovering what’s next, determining how to get there, and, more significantly, defining for others why it matters.

Thus, the article begins with the following statement: “One of the most consistent patterns in business is the failure of leading companies to stay at the top of their industries when technologies or markets change. … Xerox let Canon create the small-copier market. … Sears gave way to Walmart. … IBM dominated the mainframe market but missed by years the emergence of minicomputers, which were technologically much simpler than mainframes.” [4]

The fundamental question addressed by Bower and Christensen is why: “Why is it that companies like these invest aggressively—and successfully—in the technologies necessary to retain their current customers but then fail to make certain other technological investments that customers of the future will demand?” [5] I believe their response is instructive for the American church. Before turning our attention in that direction, however, let’s take a moment to further consider the concept of disruption.

Failure to Adapt

Initially, Bower and Christensen cite five factors that contribute to an established company’s failure to recognize, invest, or adapt in order to position itself for future need, demand, and opportunity. [6] I’ve listed the five factors here:

  1. Bureaucracy
  2. Arrogance
  3. Tired Executive Bloo
  4. Poor Planning
  5. Short-Term Investment Horizons

Two years later, in a more extensive work on the subject, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen added the following to this list: “inadequate skills and resources, and just plain bad luck.” [7]

Even with such things in mind, both the article and the book cite a more fundamental and somewhat paradoxical reason that established companies can be disrupted in time: “They stay close to their customers.” [8]

Stated another way, a company’s current, best, and most loyal customers are typically the primary concern of management. Pleasing these customers by giving them what they want, when they want it, and how they like it is what drives new product investment, development, and services. Thus, dollars (i.e., cost of production), numbers (i.e., units sold), and profits (i.e., return on investment—ROI) become the determining factors for what an established company will do, won’t do, and why they do what they do going forward.

Stuck in the Present

Thus, “when a technology that has the potential for revolutionizing an industry emerges, established companies typically see it as unattractive: it’s not something their mainstream customers want, and its projected profit margins aren’t sufficient to cover big company cost structures. As a result, the new technology tends to get ignored in favor of what’s currently popular with the best customers.” [9] In this way, over time, established companies are “hurt by the very technologies their customers led them to ignore.” [10]

Those benefiting most within established systems are often reluctant to recognize that anything is wrong with the status quo or to resource bold new initiatives. There is too much at stake: loss of power, position, and privilege. This is especially true when those promoting disruptive innovation are small in number, marginalized stakeholders, or otherwise seen as outliers by those with more fixed and predictable opinions. The unwillingness of large, established companies to address the future from a present position of strength leads to stagnation, marginalization, irrelevance, and decline.

On the flip side, this entrenched position provides motivation for entrepreneurs and innovators to test their theories, incubate original ideas, and establish new products not dependent on current values or realities. Failure on the part of leaders in responsible positions of authority to listen to such people, to not think deeply about what it is they’re sensing, or to resource and empower them wherever possible will hurt a company in the long term. It opens the door for disruption.

Excerpt from Disruption: Repurposing the Church to Redeem the Community by Mark DeYmaz (Thomas Nelson and Leadership Network; March 2017, pp. 3-6).

Click here to learn more. 

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 [1] Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen, “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave,” Harvard Business Review  (January-February 1995), https://hbr.org/1995/01/disruptive-technologies-catching-the-wave.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Clayton Christensen, “Disruptive Innovation,” Clayton Christensen (2016), www.claytonchristensen.com/key-concepts.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Christensen, “Disruptive Innovation.”

[8] Bower and Christensen, “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark DeYmaz

Mark DeYmaz (@markdeymaz) is a recognized champion of multiethnic church planting, growth, and development, for the sake of the gospel throughout North America and beyond. He is the founding pastor of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, AR, and a co-founder of the Mosaix Global Network. His books include Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church and the recently released small group study, Multiethnic Conversations.

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