Canada's Condominium Magazine

Disruptive innovation is companies’ goal, but it’s hard: GE report

Today, a lot of companies have dedicated innovation executives whose jobs are to encourage innovative activities and make them profitable. We wonder if they dream of the great Macintosh launch ad of 1984, aired just once nationally at that year’s Super Bowl XVIII (and directed by Ridley Scott, no less). This was arguably disruptive technology’s defining moment, thanks to the now-legendary brilliance of that ad. A whole new market for personal computers was suddenly created, for an entirely different set of consumers. It is not an exaggeration to say that everything changed that day.

There have been plenty of disruptive technologies and innovations, going back to the Ford Model T, and on through transistor radios, pocket calculators and more recently the mobile phone, but none of them appeared with the same market-shattering impact.

The kind of explosive market entry that the Apple Macintosh made in 1984 is now sometimes referred to as a Big Bang Disruption. When one of these comes along, consumers suddenly, and catastrophically for incumbent businesses, abandon older inventions for the new. The Apple (again) iPhone had that effect on the Blackberry. It is still trying to recover. Coincidentally, Blackberry, originally named Research in Motion, was founded in 1984.

These Big Bang Disruptions don’t happen every day, but that’s not because businesses aren’t trying. The GE Global Innovation Barometer Report on Canada makes it clear that businesses in this country understand the importance of innovation. The GE survey polled innovation executives from twenty-six countries to see what they are thinking, and doing, about innovating in their respective companies.

The need for disruption in processes and behaviours is established as a criterion for success, but business leaders are still very much focused on short-term profitability and struggle to adopt more spontaneous, creative and interactive innovation models. More traditional organizational design attached to innovation activities remain the norm.

GE Global Innovation Barometer 2014

Canadian executives mostly (69 per cent) recognize that companies have to encourage creativity and “disruptive processes” in order to make a Macintosh moment possible. Collaboration and sharing of knowledge are big in this new “global brain” culture, but the Canadians represented in the survey seem to have mixed feelings about how well they’re actually doing at attracting the top talent. This was one of the biggest “innovation killers” for the Canadians: 22 per cent mentioned lack of talent as a problem.
Individual genius or collaborative effort? Most innovation executives hold for the collaboration scenario, but many of the most disruptive innovations have been the work of inspired individuals, like Steve Jobs (Apple) and Jack Dorsey (Twitter).

It’s also just plain difficult to be innovative: 17 per cent of Canadian innovation executives, and this is lower than the global average, said it is difficult to come up with “radical and disruptive ideas.” Then there are the somewhat predictable problems of corporate inertia, risk-averse mindset, lack of funds and lack of leadership, all effectively working against innovation. Whatever good intentions a company may have, in the end you can’t decree innovation.

Companies today are certainly feeling the need to compete. A writer in a Forbes piece about disruptive innovation and technology, Greg Satell, says that the average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 has fallen from sixty years in 1960 to less than twenty years today.

Looking at some of the great disruptive innovations of the last decade or so—Facebook, Twitter, Apple—you find a single brilliant creator behind each of them: Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Steve Jobs respectively. Is that kind of disruptive innovation, the invention that turns existing markets upside down while creating new ones, perhaps always the work of the individual genius? Not according to most Canadian innovation executives: 60 per cent believe that the most successful innovations are planned, “emerging through a structured innovation process” as opposed to the 40 per cent who think they are spontaneous, the result of interactions of creative individuals.


Auberge on the Park-Tridel


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