It’s often overlooked that innovation is little more than looking at something that already exists, only from a different perspective. Doing so creates the “disruption” that many business folks – particularly marketers – strive for. This is the central premise Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor take in the follow-up to The Innovators Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution (excerpted here in USA Today).
Interestingly, 1981 signaled the end of Sony’s disruptive odyssey, and for the next eighteen years the company did not launch a single new disruptive growth business. The company continued to be innovative, but its innovations were sustaining in character-they were better products targeted at existing markets. Sony’s PlayStation, for example, is a great product, but it was a late entrant into a well-established market. Likewise, its Vaio notebook computers are great products, but they too were late entrants into a well-established market.
What caused this abrupt shift in Sony’s innovation strategy? In the early 1980s Morita began to withdraw from active management of the company in order to involve himself in Japanese politics.10 To take his place, Sony began to employ marketers with MBA’s to help identify new-growth opportunities. The MBA’s brought with them sophisticated, quantitative, attribute-based techniques for segmenting markets and assessing market potential. Although these methods uncovered some underserved opportunities on trajectories of sustaining improvement in established markets, they were weak at synthesizing insights from intuitive observation. In searching for an initial product foothold in new-market disruption, observation and questioning to determine what customers are trying to do, coupled with strategies of rapid development and fast feedback, can greatly improve the probability that a company’s products will converge quickly upon a job that people are trying to get done.