Why Big Companies Squander Good Ideas

To start this article, the author tells a story about a WWI British officer who saw the potential of tank warfare but couldn’t get the army to adopt the new technology and new way of fighting. He uses this story, and others throughout, to make the point that

Organisations from newspapers to oil majors to computing giants have persistently struggled to embrace new technological opportunities, or recognise new technological threats, even when the threats are mortal or the opportunities are golden.

The question is why companies do this? The answer seems to be that these new technologies require a new way of behaving or, as Rebecca Henderson of the Harvard Business School puts it, an architectural innovation is required and these are very difficult for successful organizations to undertake.

An architectural innovation is an innovation that changes the relationship between the pieces of the problem … (it) challenges an old organisation because it demands that the organisation remake itself … The organisational question is deeply unsexy, but it’s fundamental.

This then is the fundamental cause of disruption, not, as Christensen has claimed, because of ‘disruption from below’. The problem is, there are no easy answers to the problem of architectural innovation. It’s messy and complex and therefore not amenable to simple sound-bites or solutions.

This article is worth reading in full. It doesn’t offer a solution, but it clearly describes what the real disruption issue is. One conclusion is that all these people writing about disruption should be reading Rebecca Henderson rather than Clayton Christensen.

Original Article »

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