Innovations are, to quote Clayton Christensen, either sustaining or disruptive. Sustaining innovations create small improvements to existing things, while disruptive ones fulfill needs whose existence users are not yet even aware of. A disruptive innovation is risky, and is more than likely to lead to failure.
When successful, it changes the life of its users.
I was tasked with implementing a customer’s digital service concept in a physical space which, once finished, will serve its users both as a metro station and as a homely meeting place offering the best services. Basic needs have been identified through user surveys, which have also provided solid ideas for building the space and service selection. The task now is to convert the needs and ideas into actual implementations of innovative and digital service packages.
How can one create a customer-centred holistic concept bursting with disruptive innovations? Or is it even possible?
As Christensen says, creating sustaining innovations is easy. You take a look at customer needs, see how they are currently dealt with and fulfill the needs slightly better than others so far. Nearly all digital consultants are successful at this task. Creating disruptive innovations, on the other hand, is a challenge, especially when the customer is placed at the core. This task requires deep familiarization with the customer’s needs and the mechanisms that create them.
One can only imagine what life today would be like without the people who productized the ballpoint pen, battery, airplane, pantyhose and Internet.
Courage is required, because customer-centred disruptive innovation can fail – genuinely and completely fail, even if prototyping and customer verification have been done perfectly.
Nevertheless, I have personally nearly always walked the disruptive path.
I remember the Finnish actor Peter Franzén’s story about the process through which he adapts to his future parts. He lives the part. He literally creates blood, sweat and tears as he makes his way to the core of the character. That is the core of customer-centred disruptive innovation.
One must take on the role of the customers and feel the life that they live. What are they interested in? What worries them? What do they expect?
It is easy to fulfill existing needs without attracting much attention. Customer-centred disruptive innovations inspire, arouse emotions, change life, are simple and make a customer say to the person sitting next to them: “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” They are risky, and yet we want to create them.
Christensen, Clayton M. (1997). The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Harvard Business School Press.