Balancing Sustaining and Disruptive Innovation
Dean Robb, Ph.D.
A renewable entrepreneurial enterprise must juggle, balance and integrate two phenomena, each requiring radically different values, mindsets, leadership and management approaches. The first is "sustaining innovations," which are basically improvements to a currently-existing business framework, and which milk the current business model and value proposition for all they are worth. The second is "disruptive innovations," which are innovations that threaten the currently existing business framework by fundamentally changing the rules of the game. Most business leaders today grew up solely within the traditional "sustaining innovation" paradigm, and thus often fail in their attempts either to successfully launch disruptive innovations, or to manage both kinds of innovations within the same enterprise. This article focuses on how leaders can learn how to integrate the two, facilitating the growth and maturation of the enterprise's disruptive innovations, nurturing and guiding them as if they were children, then letting them go as they mature into independent adults. And in the midst of all that, how they can keep procreating like mad! The first change required is subtle but profound: business leaders must stop thinking about their business as being "about" any particular products, services or business models — i.e. fixed, static value propositions. Instead, business leaders must re-envision their enterprises as something like a dynasty. In which its members are a never-ending succession of new and different business models, value propositions, products and services — all of which are born, rise to prominence, age gracefully, and die. This mode of thinking explicitly integrates a clear recognition of impermanence: i.e. awareness that every value proposition will be replaced by more vigorous members of younger generations. The identity of the enterprise is not defined by any particular, ephemeral value...
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