I’ve been thinking a lot about disruptive innovation, what with it being a thing that people for some reason still take seriously.
What if disruptive innovation needed to be part of a wider conception of institutional innovation? By this, I mean that although disruptive innovation has obvious flaws when viewed in isolation – not least that it isn’t a very good description of any innovation that we know about – but needs to be combined with other ideas of innovation in order to make sense.
“Sustaining innovation” has a similar issue, in that it assumes an organisation as a single organism with a common purpose, and “user innovation” – although I love it – also doesn’t really describe the way that big organisations actually change.
(as an aside, we are also talking about three different perspectives on history – disruption is recognisably ahistorical to the field of endeavour it is acting on, sustaining innovation draws on a canonical “history of the victorious” which codifies a single organisational story, whereas user innovation draws more on the “folk memory” of lived experience)
So I plotted the three as sides of a triangle, and then thought about the vertices.
We can see the effects of combining sustaining and disruptive innovation in the activities of many universities – the rise of corporatism and taking ideas from other businesses. “Lean” is a good example here that makes sense from a managerial and financial perspective but actually makes it harder for “users” (in this case, staff)
Combining sustaining and user innovations is a great way of optimising processes and practices. It makes it easier for users to keep doing the same thing by adding short-cuts based on their observed behaviour. This leads to incremental changes rather than wholesale “innovation” as externally observed, basically what happens at a sensible institution that listens to people at the “chalk face”.
Finally, combining user innovation and disruptive innovation – this made me think of the “edupunk” movement, users grabbing and using external tools with little regard for the needs of the institution (and often without the institution ever knowing): doing exciting things but storing up a whole world of interoperability problems.
So it seems to me that a truly useful innovation will draw on each of the three strands: disruptive (external), sustaining (management), and user (worker). I couldn’t find a diagram that explained this so I made one.
(and if you are a director of innovation and may still be dubious, I have performed what may soon be the defining test for theories of innovation and solved for Yacht Rock.)