Nurturing disruptive innovation

15 Apr 2011 Sandeep Mehta

First of all, I really loved the ars technical article Is gravity not actually a force? Forcing theory to meet experiments.  It has a great explanation of the new (perhaps revolutionary) theory of gravitation by Dutch theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde. I recommend reading the whole article. It has a great explanation of the
theory that made quite a stir last year.

More importantly, it points out how science has been able to take disruptive ideas and get them accepted for hundreds of years:

“How are controversial ideas handled by modern science? A common charge leveled against science (generally by those who are unhappy with its conclusions) is that the only way to get funding or continue your research is by going along with the current theories and not rocking the boat. For those who spend their careers in science, this is laughable—it is those who successfully rock the boat who are the most successful. In this article, we are going to look at a manuscript that purports to overturn hundreds of years of accepted ideas about gravity, and use it as an illustration of how controversial ideas are dealt with in modern physics.”

May be we can learn from science on how to integrate disruptive innovation into new products and over come the not-invented-here rejection plaguing most R&D organizations engaged in open innovation?  I think we can.  Here are the steps:

  1. Publish the innovative idea (accessed through open innovation) to  internal experts.  Clearly, internal experts will be circumspect and disinclined to accept the new idea.  So, it is critical to provide a compelling argument or test results that back up the actual work.
  2. Invite internal experts to replicate the idea.  This is quite common in science as the article points out.  This will start getting some buy-in.  IP issues will be critical and you will need to ensure that the external idea does not get integrated into your internal R&D without a proper license.  
  3. Review results to verify and validate the idea.  This again is quite common in science and many people check the new theories on different scientific domains.  Similarly, R&D managers need to ensure experts examine the value of the innovation from different perspectives (user experience, manufacturability, etc.).   A big advantage of this step would be to reduce risks around integrating the disruptive innovation.  This step will also further drive acceptance of the new innovation.
  4. Solicit future involvement from experts and develop a plan to mature the innovation.  It is critical that this step is executed very quickly after step 3.  A plan and associated metrics will get over the valley of death in product innovation.

 Sounds quite intuitive.  I hope to try this in the near future.  Any thoughts?

Leave a Reply