I was fortunate enough to attend a panel discussion with Open Universities Australia about disruption and innovation.
On the panel were, Professor Hal Gregersen, Dr Holly Ludgate, Professor Geoffrey Crisp and Mr Paul Wappett.
Professor Gregerson joined the panel remotely from his office in the United States, which, in light of Open Universities Australia’s (OUA) business model that focuses on remote learning, this was a great way to kick things off.
OUA is certainly challenging the traditional model of how education can be delivered. So, it’s no surprise this panel discussion was their making.
Professor Gregerson kicked things off by defining what is currently considered to be disruptive innovation. Clayton Christianson’s definition of Disruptive Innovationexplains it well.
Don’t focus on the money
The discussion quickly shifted focused towards how the right leader can lead a company to innovate.
Leaders of companies that want to innovate need to create an environment that encourages ideas and enables the execution of these ideas. That’s key to being able to innovate.
Ultimately, business models are never complete. So, in order to continually innovate or evolve your business model, the environment must be right. And, leadership creates the right environment.
And, it’s deliberate effort that makes this possible.
An example of this going right is Amazon.
An example of this going wrong is Kodak.
The panel agreed on what led Kodak to its demise: insulated leaders.
An insulated leader cannot see the bigger picture. As a result, they leave the company open to being disrupted and sometimes, put out of business.
The panel also agreed that, often, in the face of adversity Amazon would take a gamble and enter a new market, with a new product or service. Wall St would smash them, but, they would persevere and many of these efforts have gone on to result in phenomenal success.
By the looks of it the senior leaders, including Jeff Bezos himself aren’t overly swayed by short term thinking.
But, to shake things up a little, have a read of this former employee account of his time at Amazon. There are always three sides (or more) to every story, and this is just one. But, an interesting one at that.
So, what’s the biggest killer of innovation and disruption?
How to ensure your business fails
Short-term thinking clouds the potential of any company. It also inhibits how success is measured and usually leads to decisions that driven to drive immediate profit results.
While this may make investors and, if the company is publicly listed, shareholders happy, it may be setting up a company to struggle in the future.
While making money is not bad, the panel agreed that having ‘making money’ as the only focus leaves a business open to the bad kind of disruption; the kind that brought Kodak to its knees.
Professor Crisp made a wonderful point. “Technology is about people, connecting people and delivering value to people,” he said.
This is perhaps Kodak’s greatest missed opportunity. They did not see that technology, and the ‘digital revolution’ that was clearly upon them was actually about helping people.
Technology, when used correctly can enrich the lives of people and it appears that Kodak’s focus remained on their products rather than their customers.
Ask a lot of questions
If you spend any time with children, you’ll find that they ask a lot of questions.
They frequently ask “why?”
And, it’s a mighty fine question. It’s a question that, as we grow older, we often stop asking. Perhaps we figure we already know the answers or, we may feel we look foolish if we ask.
Plus, our success in life, our careers and in business is judged by our ability to answer questions, to give the right answer. So, it becomes counter intuitive to ask ‘why?’
However, to stimulate an environment in which disruptive innovation can occur, it’s the question that must be posed. In fact, asking ‘why?’ is often more important than the answer that is given that leads to the breakthrough idea.
Why? Because asking the right questions changes thinking. Changing thinking and, ultimately, culture within an organisation is vital.
On the panel, Wappett expressed it like this, “Asking potentially disruptive questions is hard. People genuinely don’t like doing this as it makes them feel uncomfortable. But, people need to accept and embrace the hard questions if they are to innovate”.
Why does this matter to entrepreneurs?
Leadership, by its very nature is about seeking answers and asking questions. It’s about asking the right questions that may lead you to the insight that enables you to make good decisions.
I think it’s safe to say that good leaders are naturally inquisitive.
And let’s admit it. Entrepreneurs, by our very nature are disruptive innovators.
Entrepreneurs are leaders.
And, it all starts with asking the right questions, the hard questions, the ones that lead us to answers that we didn’t expect but really matter.