It is every company’s worst nightmare: being wiped out of existence by a disruptive competitor. It’s no secret that the number one advice here is to disrupt yourself before someone else does. But the real question is: How does one organize for disruption, and is Collaborative Innovation part of the answer?

Well, many executives and innovation managers believe that the employees don’t have the right ideas, let alone the game-changing ones. For them, disruption is best left to the executive team, or viewed as this magical thing that only hip-and-trendy startups can pull off.

We believe the opposite is true, and the concepts laid out in the theory of disruptive innovation seem to support this belief. In this blog post, we’ll touch on 3 elements of the theory of disruptive innovation that support our belief, and we’ll point out how these elements are, almost automatically, front and center in a Collaborative Innovation initiative.

1. Disagreement Often Signals Disruption

When people – and especially entire departments – disagree on whether or not to pursue a certain idea, the idea probably has disruptive potential.

Marketing and financial managers, because of their managerial and financial incentives, will rarely support a disruptive technology. On the other hand, technical personnel with outstanding track records will often persist in arguing that a new market for the technology will emerge—even in the face of opposition from key customers and marketing and financial staff. Disagreement between the two groups often signals a disruptive technology that top-level managers should explore.

Clayton Christensen – Developer of the theory of disruptive innovation

What this shows is that it is important to facilitate cross-departmental discussions about the different ideas floating around in the company. In a Collaborative Innovation program, this is almost automatically the case. Even more, a corporate-wide Collaborative Innovation effort can dramatically speed up the process of identifying ideas which spark a lot of discussion and disagreement.

When running a Collaborative Innovation program, try and seek that disagreement actively. Launch controversial campaigns, and motivate people to come up with controversial ideas. This, more than overly engineered research processes, will most likely lead to disruptive ideas.

2. Ignore The Customer

When looking for disruptive ideas, using the common methods such as mapping the customer journey, design thinking, and the likes might not be the best idea. The majority of these methods put the company’s current customer at the center, and this might be exactly what’s killing disruptive ideas.

The processes and incentives that companies use to keep focused on their main customers work so well that they blind those companies to important new technologies in emerging markets. Many companies have learned the hard way the perils of ignoring new technologies that do not initially meet the needs of mainstream customers.

Clayton Christensen – Developer of the theory of disruptive innovation

What this shows is that it is important to throw conventional brainstorming, reviewing and enriching of ideas overboard if you are looking for disruptive ideas. This, when formulating the appropriate campaigns, is something that happens almost automatically in a Collaborative Innovation program. By involving as many people as possible, you’ll create a community where many participants are not blinded by the way things are supposed to be done. This increases the likelihood of stumbling upon disruptive insights.

When talking to executives, we often find they tend to complain about how their innovation programs never lead to disruptive ideas. At the same time, they insist on using conventional brainstorming and reviewing techniques, often in dedicated R&D departments. This is exactly what stops – or at least dramatically slows down – disruptive insights to surface.

3. No, It Doesn’t Have To Be Radical

A common misconception is that disruption always involves some complex, visionairy-exclusive technologies and insights; while in fact, the opposite is true. Disruption often happens through the use of technologies that are not radically new or difficult from a technological perspective.

The technological changes that damage established companies are usually not radically new or difficult from a technological point of view. They do, however, have two important characteristics: First, they typically present a different package of performance attributes—ones that, at least at the outset, are not valued by existing customers. Second, the performance attributes that existing customers do value improve at such a rapid rate that the new technology can later invade those established markets.

Clayton Christensen – Developer of the theory of disruptive innovation

What this shows is that companies, with their matured R&D processes often overshoot and miss the real opportunities. In a Collaborative Innovation program, experts and non-experts join forces, which creates a balance between looking at things from outside of the box, while bringing experts into the conversation as well. This helps take the focus away from striving for radical solutions only.

A common critique to Collaborative Innovation programs is that people don’t have the breakthrough ideas. This often points at the fact that the company believes that disruption should be hard or difficult, while in reality the opposite is true.

How about your company?

Is your company embracing Collaborative Innovation as a way to identify potential for disruption, or is it all hidden away in some obfuscated R&D department? Disruption often seems to originate in environments where people don’t agree, ignore the customer, and don’t overshoot with radically difficult technology. Labeling Collaborative Innovation as an improper means to discover disruptive innovation isn’t just wrong, it’s quite the opposite. Implementing a Collaborative Innovation program could just be the key to discovering disruptive opportunities. Whether or not the company eventually allows to disrupt itself is then merely a question of being brave enough to do so.