Book Review Collective Disruption

By Brian Christian

By Michael Docherty

“The time has come to challenge the paradigm that the startups are always the ones that disrupt large, established companies.”
—   Michael Docherty

One of the major business questions today is whether large corporations will successfully learn how to create disruptive new businesses, reinventing and even disrupting themselves along the way, or whether they are destined for the dust heap of history at the hands of nimble startups. Where some see the raging innovative disruption of industries as a battle between startups and large corporations, Michael Docherty sees the opportunity to succeed through collaboration. This means to leverage the strengths of both types of organizations – highly-motivated, fast-moving, risk-taking startups, supported by well-financed, talent-laden and influential corporations.

A plethora of empirical evidence exists that startups have an upper hand. Witness Uber, Netflix, Chobani and countless others. But there is also plenty of evidence that large organizations can learn to be disruptive and, in fact, do it repeatedly. Apple is a quintessential example, and the Fortune 500 is still populated by a number of 100-year old companies, many of which have reinvented themselves (General Electric, IBM). Others have created innovative new products and business models in a repeatable way (P&G, 3M, Corning and Johnson & Johnson, to name a few).

The movement among large corporations to become more nimble, serial creators of successful new businesses is in full bloom. Note the rapid market penetration of the Lean Startup,(1) Customer Discovery(2) and Business Model Canvas(3) methodologies promoted by Ries, Blank and Osterwalder. Or the plethora of conferences now dedicated to the topics of disruptive innovation, corporate venture capital and open innovation. Or the growth in consultancies in the past decade with a focus on strategic/disruptive/breakthrough innovation, including Innosight, Strategos, Docherty’s own Venture2, and, of course, The Inovo Group.

The prescriptions for corporations to become strategic innovators are expansive and growing. One can roughly divide this space into three categories: (1) opportunity discovery process (2) opportunity pursuit process (from concept to market adoption) and (3) mindset and culture change. Docherty’s contribution lies in the areas of opportunity pursuit process and mindset and culture change. He proposes that large corporations shed the idea that they need to go it alone and, instead, identify active startups — or fund new startups — with which they can co-create these transformative new businesses. This notion has obvious appeal; we all understand that 1+1=3 when complementary partners manage to play well together.

Docherty offers a range of suggestions for enabling corporate “elephants” to dance with startup “mice.” His suggestions will no doubt be helpful to those seeking success through the co-creation model. But it’s also fair to say that the book’s strength lies not in the novelty or ingenuity of these proposed frameworks. Rather it lies in the countless case stories, drawn from a wide range of corporate innovators and entrepreneurs, and the author’s sharp observations.

Docherty, as an astute explorer in the co-creation realm, has laid down a nice contour map of the geography to aid those that follow and to spark continued discussion.