Diversity of Perspective is Key to Disruptive Innovation

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Disruptive Innovation > Best Practices > Diversity of Perspective is Key to Disruptive Innovation

Diversity of Perspective is Key to Disruptive Innovation
Rick Mueller, Professor, United States, SIG Leader
“All new ideas are combinations of old ideas, but not all idea combinations are created equal,” writes Frans Johannsen.

An HBR article by Johansson tells how Mick Pearce designed the Eastgate office building in Harare, Zimbabwe. He based it on techniques he observed termites employ to stabilize the internal temperature of their nests. Remarkably, the Eastgate maintains an ambient temperature between 73-78°F (23-26°C) despite variances in external temperatures from 58-88°F (14-31°C). And the building uses only 10% of the energy needed by a similar, airco cooled building.

Johannsen argues in his book that most innovation comes at the intersection of fields, and Pearce's building is just one example.

Disruptive Innovation is (as Inigo Montoya might say) 'not what you think it means'. Many are under the mis-impression that disruptive innovation proceeds from newly developed disruptive technologies when in fact the bulk and most powerful disruptive innovations are novel combinations of existing technology repurposed to empower customers with broadly desired capabilities previously exclusive to the well endowed.

That's why diversity of perspective is something we should strive for and, as we've learned over time, can pay off handsomely when used to repurpose technology in this way. For more information see also the best practice How to Find Innovative Ideas? From Analogous Markets.

⇒ Do you know another good example of diversity of perspective combining existing technology? Drop a reaction.
Book: Frans Johansson, "The Medici Effect", HBR Press 2017 (2004).
Article: Frans Johansson, "Create the Medici Effect", HBS Working Knowledge, 2004.

Diversity of Thought for Disruptive Innovation
Charles Alter, Consultant, United States, Member
Indeed diversity of thought from people of diverse backgrounds is the key to understanding disruptive innovation. A good example of this that has been discussed many times is the original iPhone. Steve Jobs had a diverse group of people on the development team. They saw that by combining existing applications - like a cell phone, camera, email and web browser into one cool looking device in an affordable way would disrupt the markets and the products of Apple's competitors. Look at the results.

Barriers to Diversity May Result from Former Success
Bernhard Keim, Business Consultant, Germany, Premium Member
Highly developed capabilities in existing products/technologies create barriers to developing capabilities in new products/technologies. When adapting to radical change within an industry, or in exploiting entirely new business opportunities, new firms might have an advantage compared with established firms.
But it depends on whether the change or the innovation is competence enhancing or competence destroying:
  • Some companies are just that good at what they have done for a long time, a changing perspective may put such organisation in turmoil.
  • On the other hand some became superior as they relentlessly challenged themselves. "There must be an even better way to solve this issue" has been their mantra to success.
In conclusion, the capacity to change may be regarded as a distinctive organizational capability to tackle disruptive innovation.

Examples of Fusion of Fields / Diversity in Disruptive Innovation
Gabi Levin, Israel, Member
This concept has found its way into the class I was teaching about enterprises in the HiTech industry. I named it "fusion of fields".

A good example of such fusion that gave rise to enormous business
Field 1: Computer-based image analysis
Field 2: X-ray medical diagnostics.
Fused field: Computerized tomography and subsequent technologies.
Lesser known to the public, is the automated X-ray non-destructive quality test for various cast parts and critical welds in aerospace (initially) and in other industries.

Another great example is the following:
Field 1: Detection of radio signal source location by two receiving receivers.
Field 2: Computerized analysis of radio signal strength.
Fused field: Cellular phones.

I am certain that if we look at many of the most influential break throughs in our life we will find this to be true as well.
The lesson of this is: don't look for the keys where the light is, move the lights until they intersect. Investigate the intersection. You'll create keys.

Where Spheres Intersect, New Life is Happening
Bernhard Keim, Business Consultant, Germany, Premium Member
@Gabi Levin: Your last sentence reminds me of biospheres. Most life happens where biospheres intersect. It's not inside a forest where you find the most species, but on its borders. What happens at the edges is more relevant for change, new possibilities. Innovative companies, societies, cultures are the ones that are constantly challenged by adjacent developments, not the ones that focus on the inside. The inside is important for stabilization, the outside for change and growth.

Former Success Can Be the Worst Enemy
Gabi Levin, Israel, Member
The demise of many companies in the technology sector is a dead proof that former success is poison.
One such great example - Kodak.
The huge success in the picture film business - even after competitors entered - poisoned their minds and when they had the opportunity to be first to enter the digital cameras - they disregarded it as little nuisance.
Encyclopedia Britannica - refused to enter the electronic version of encyclopedia, anyone is using them today?
There are more.

Creativity from Diversity
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
Here are some further builds for this topic:
  • Creativity is the relating of things that were previously unrelated – so the wider one’s range of knowledge / the diversity in a team, the higher the probability of creativity.
  • The main barrier to creativity is FEAR of looking FOOLISH. There is no such thing as a bad idea. Initial ideas seldom provide THE answer. Further work is needed to fill the gaps and make them usable (inspiration plus perspiration).
  • “Disruptive innovations” arise from conflict of ideas without conflict of personality. So first identify what an idea will achieve towards what is required (LIKES), only then look at the gaps between the idea and the requirement in terms of HOW TO bridge them (enter creativity + perspiration).
  • Further examples of diversity applied to creativity:
    • Martial art forms & medicines based on animal observations
    • The petroleum snake
    • ‘Tornado’ to vacuum cleaner
    • IPU (Engineering Co) bespoke order time reduction
    • TOTAL Co, “Creativity Club”
    • Royal Soc. Of Chemistry
    • Quatro Biological research

Ahead! Ahoy! Diversity to Creativity
Arif ur Rehman, Professor, Pakistan, Member
Being labelled as foolish (a failed outcome) is better than not experimenting and being designated as Mr. Right. An idea is never bad - looked into from anatomical / surgical perspective of a disruptive team, leads to innovation, leads to creativity.
Each time I am at an auto roadside repair shop, from a small dent to a complete overhaul of the engine, the mechanic has a disruptive team of chootos - uneducated but skilled 8 - 10 years old boys - who come up with the best repairs (at a fraction of the standard charges - that would put the world's leading garage to shame. Diversity leading to phenomenal creativity.

Labelled Foolish
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
@Arif ur Rehman:Unfortunately ego in the majority of people does not allow for being labelled as foolish and such a label can have a highly detrimental effect on one's situation at work; so to say that it is better to be so labelled rather than not experiment will tend to apply mainly to those who are able to work outside of the 'norm' of organisations. This is why creativity training (as being undertaken by a wide range of organisations) is showing profitable returns on the investment.

A Combination of Curiosity and Diversity Leads to Innovation
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
Diversity certainly leads to generation of new ideas, however it is the curiosity that enables the idea to come alive (rubber meeting the road condition).
For example, I have computer experience and now I am working as lecturer in an engineering college which is enabling me to come up with computer applications which are applicable to manufacturing 4.0 (i.e., application of artificial intelligence and IOT to traditional engineering practices). Though one may not have immediate monetary gains, one can come up with innovative ideas and implement them putting diverse backgrounds at work and by promoting curiousness.

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