Tag Archives: Clayton Christensen

Is Originality Overrated? The Race for Second Place

In the quest for competitive advantages, we often strive to find the novel idea that will set us apart, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain. While this is a worthy endeavor, is success bequeathed upon innovators? Internality it may feel rewarding to create something new, but is originality actually rewarded?

Last week, Facebook announced a new function, Facebook Camera. This “innovative” feature will allow users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users will also have the ability to add filters and fun overlays to the pics. If this sounds familiar, it may be because Facebook introduced something similar on Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day), WhatsApp (Status), and Instagram (Stories), not to mention there’s another social networking site, Snapchat, which does exactly what these four Facebook-owned products do. In fact, Mike Murray, a reporter at Quartz, points out that Facebook’s five most recent product announcements are eerily similar to designs from other companies.

  • Facebook Camera = Snapchat
  • “Live location” in Messenger = “Sharing your location” in Apple’s Messages
  • Reactions and Mentions in Messenger = Reactions and @-mentions on Slack
  • Streaming videogames live = Twitch
  • Messenger Day = Snapchat

We can judge Facebook for repackaging past ideas, but considering they have two billion monthly users and generated $9 billion in revenue last quarter, maybe we need to judge ourselves for being so reliant on uniqueness. Just look at the movie industry.

Movie studios have grown resistant to new concepts that require a large investment. Instead, they are opting for sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have brand recognition. Why gamble with unknown actors playing unknown characters in an unknown story when you can develop a live action Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagined Spider-Man, or a continuation of Pitch Perfect (all of which I intend to see).

The plethora of movie sequels clogging the multiplex can make you feel as though your life were stuck on spin cycle. But if the movies don’t change, we do, and that’s a blessing.—Joshua David Stein

It’s a simple sales theory: Selling something original is much more difficult than selling something that’s familiar. Different, in itself, is not a selling point. People need to be able to relate what you are peddling to what they already know; otherwise you are in the defensive position of convincing, not promoting.

As much as we need new ideas, in Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes note that the “new and exciting” companies that disrupt their industry are founded by ex-employees of the “traditional” companies. These individuals did not attain success by creating something from scratch; their “originality” emerged from the idea that they could do it better, not brand new. They did the groundwork at the previous company—experiencing the necessary trial and error, thought experiments, and systems planning—and were able to implement in the new environment.

We all want to be innovators, and I’m not suggesting we abandon this endeavor. However, innovation does not require re-invention. There is something to be said for not consistently creating the wheel. It’s why we study best practices and scrutinize over our competition’s lessons learned. Plus, it lowers risk and is cheaper than paying for mistakes. Let others discover the potholes; we can follow their lead, enhance it, and make it our own.

In the end, there may be self-satisfaction in saying we thought of it first, but think of how self-satisfied you can feel by thinking of it second while enjoying the riches of victory? After all, you are trying to lead your team to long-term success, not win a first-place ribbon.

Disruptive Leadership in a Terminator-free World

terminatorChange happens fast. When it does, it is our responsibility to ensure that our workforce is ready. Some leaders do this by keeping everyone on a constant state of high alert. Others rush through the change in hopes of returning to a state of peaceful serenity. A third option is to embrace disruptive innovations by serving as a T-800 of disruptive leadership.

If you are unfamiliar with the T-800, that is the Terminator killing machine who was re-programmed to safeguard the human race from IT-induced annihilation. The Schwarzeneggeran T-800 travels back in time to accomplish this feat, serving as a guardian to those under his protection. Leaders play a similar role and must often take similar (though less violent) extreme measures to ensure the survival of the organization.

To prepare a workforce for potential threats, we must first be familiar with Clayton Christensen and Joseph Bower’s classic Harvard Business Review article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. In it, they discuss how a new product or service can “surprise” those who do not recognize and/or accept the imminent competition. What would be an otherwise successful leader, company, or industry can find itself obsolete when the new idea is introduced. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case.

Consultant David O’Ryan proposes that disruptors need not be so disruptive. His constructive disruptive technology involves integrating existing practices with new innovations to create a seamless, strategically-aligned transition. The “constructive” aspect keeps you current and competitive as it “disruptively” impacts your business model, practices, and workforce. Once we accept this idea, the next step is determining how to get our team ready.

Without knowing what the next threat will be, where it will originate, or how it will threaten us, there are ways we can embolden our culture and prepare for a Skynet/Genisys-esque coup.

  1. Encourage new ideas. This is easy to say and we all think we’re doing it. The test is whether you’re willing to encourage people to generate new ideas that run counter to how you are currently operating. Once this culture is in place, you will no longer simply react to disruptions, you’ll begin to create your own. This will keep your team sharp and your business ahead of the curve.
  2. Don’t jump ahead. When we become impatient, there’s a tendency to create low-end disruption. This occurs when the rate at which we push change exceeds the rate at which our team can adopt it. Keep close tabs on staff so you’re immediately aware when they are not engaged. You may need to revise your communication, regain their buy in, or possibly slow down.
  3. Incentivize resourcefulness. Many disruptions are not based on advanced technologies but on finding novel ways to use existing elements. Before shopping for new contraptions or products, urge your team to be creative with what they have. And when they find a new approach, make a big deal of it so others will be more willing to try, as well.

lindahamilton2Most of us are not as lucky as Sarah Connor – she had a robot sent from the future whose sole task was to protect her from threats. We must rely on our experience, our instincts, and our teammates. Remain on the lookout for impending changes, ponder threats that may initially seem inconsequential, and act quickly when clear threats arise. This will protect you from killing machines and any other disruptions you are bound to confront.