Disruptive Innovation: How to Be the Change You Want


October 10, 2023

Disruptive innovation is your guiding star to coming up with new, great, and reliable ideas. Everyone is capable of being an original thinker. You just need to be in the right environment. 

Too often organizations underestimate the power of their people, leaving the potential of problem-solving abilities in the dust. Not only does this create a culture that depends on management, but it also robs you of the chance to nurture a culture of original thinkers

The key to curing a company that toes the line to the status quo is to create a shift in culture. But first, you need to know what you’re working towards: disruptive innovation. 

Quick Takeaways

  • Disruptive innovations make products and services more affordable and accessible to the public, welcoming in a larger audience.
  • Conventional companies cut 90% of employees out of the problem-solving process and load too much responsibility onto designated “innovators”.
  • Inherently innovative organizations see significantly more growth than conventional companies.
  • Achieving disruptive innovation means shifting your company’s culture to one that lives and breathes the power of all-inclusive participation.

What is disruptive innovation?

Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School, first coined the term ‘disruptive innovation’ in the early 1990s. His concept refers to an innovation that creates a new market while disrupting an existing one. 

Disruptive innovations aren’t ideas that make “already good” ideas better. They’re ideas that turn existing industries on their heads. Because of that, they make products and services more affordable and everyday people are able to use them. The beauty of this is that disruptive innovation helps welcoming in a larger audience.

Video Source

Take TurboTax, for example. Before TurboTax, Americans muddled their way through the process of filling out tax forms manually. If you were lucky, you could afford to hire an accountant to do the dirty work for you, but not everyone had the luxury.

Once TurboTax introduced their affordable, at-home software, the population suddenly had an easy, convenient way to file taxes themselves. This groundbreaking idea opened up a new market for tax preparation software. Along the way it disrupted the existing market for expensive tax professionals.

When your company masters disruptive innovation, the floodgates open for new opportunities. The problem is that there’s one thing holding people back from coming up with out-of-the-box ideas that disrupt the market: conventional company culture. 

The roadblock between you and disruptive innovation

There are two kinds of companies: ones that innovate and those that don’t. Here’s what you need to know about both types before you can be the change you want:

Conventional company culture

Conventional companies pick a specific group of people to come up with their best ideas:

  • Product managers
  • Research and development teams
  • PhD engineers
  • Design thinkers

It’s important to put innovation practices into place, that’s for sure. But when you assign the role of “original thinker” to a specific group, everyone else thinks they’re off the hook. 

Most executives don’t realize that 90% of innovation happens outside of these traditional groups. So not only are you cutting valuable employees out of the problem-solving process, but you’re also overloading responsibility on the shoulders of the traditional “innovators”.

Inherently innovative organizations 

Truly innovative companies, on the other hand, believe that innovation is everybody’s business. Big thinking and great ideas are on every employee’s to-do list. It doesn’t matter what their background or experience is. 

When you support innovation at the individual level, you can come up with more ideas, which are better ideas that end up being easier to execute. That explains why innovative brands see much more growth than conventional companies. 

graph shows that innovative companies see much more growth than conventional companies

Image Source

Reaching the peak of disruptive innovation means shifting your company’s culture to one that lives and breathes the belief that innovation is everybody’s business. 

Culture shift: how to be the change you want

If you’re looking for the road to disruptive innovation, it starts with rethinking your company culture. Remember, people are born natural idea generators. It’s a dull workplace that makes people feel like they can’t think for themselves.

Here are a few things that companies do to create a culture that inspires people to solve everyday problems and think differently:

Encourage people to express ideas

Your employees need the freedom to express their weird, wacky, and wonderful ideas without thinking their job’s on the line. Most people won’t raise their hand because they’re afraid of being wrong, judged, or fired.

When you openly encourage people, it helps them grow. It can also turn into a bountiful basket of high-quality ideas that mean something in the real-world.

Embrace “failure”

There’s no downside to experimenting. There’s only the opportunities to either succeed or learn something new. Wrap your arms around “failures”, learn from them, and then use what you know to be that much smarter with what you try next time. Trial and error is the only path to disruptive innovation. 

graphic shows that innovation comes from trying and failing multiple times

Image Source

Make it clear to employees that failure is a natural part of the process. Nothing new, much less disruptive, happens exactly right the first time.

Challenge widely accepted ideas

Break down the barriers by pushing back on status-quo thinking. Getting complacent because things work well enough is your greatest threat if you’re looking to disrupt your industry, your customers’ way of doing business, or even your own thinking.

Challenge the way things are always done. Look for places that need improvement. Take smart risks. And encourage others on your team to do the same. The only way companies will push boundaries is if the people in them do. 

Give your people a place

Make sure your employees know that they’re a part of the final product. When you have designated “problem-solvers”, then you’ve left the rest of employees out of the loop. Not only  do they feel disconnected from the innovation process, but you also miss out on their perspective.

Ask for feedback and give your people the space to make improvements. In turn, they’ll be more supportive, passionate and committed to the outcome. 

Be a disruptive innovator today

You can’t harness the power of disruptive innovation without first shifting your company culture. When you create an environment that’s all about creative thinking and inclusive contribution, you unlock new possibilities and make room for positive change.

Ready to shift your company’s culture and make your way towards disruptive innovation? As the world’s leading Innovation Architect, I can help. Read more on my blog page now, or email me today to learn how you find inspiration in the unexpected.

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.