New Markets Blog

How to launch a disruptive innovation

Posted by Stephen Wunker on Jul 5, 2012 8:42:00 AM

Creators of disruptive innovations are frequently seized by the power of their idea.  They envision all that it can become and the transformative effect that their innovation will have.  Unfortunately, their zeal can blind them to the need for walking customers through several stages of adopting revolutionary ideas.  Counter-intuitively, to launch a disruptive innovation you need to start small.

I came to this realization the hard way.  In 2000 I led a team creating one of the world's first smartphones.  We knew all that smartphones could potentially do, but we could not accept that customers would use only a small fraction of these functions at first.  Later, I founded one of the first mobile marketing companies and was perplexed that the idea took off so slowly.  Eventually I researched the patterns of how disruptive innovations get adopted, and I discovered useful insights I wished I had known years earlier:

1.  Focus on one example -- Rather than try to show the full potential of an idea, concentrate attention on one very obvious pain point that you solve brilliantly.  The pain point does not need to be important, but it should demonstrate quite clearly how existing solutions fall short.

2.  Concentrate on a widely-shared problem -- If your hope is to generate publicity about your disruptive innovation, focus on a problem that many people have.  People love to talk about common issues, even if they are trivial in nature.  

3.  Address low-risk situations -- The disruptive innovation may solve some critical problem, but in those situations the risk associated with a new solution may be high.  If the problem is really critical, it is likely being addressed somehow already.  Failure of a new solution could cause untold difficulties, so customers will wait on the sidelines to see if others have a good experience.  That dynamic can immensely lengthen the process of adoption.

4.  Cater to incremental adoption -- Don't make the adoption decision binary.  Give people a way to get their feet wet.

I explore these points in more depth in my piece for Forbes on how to launch a disruptive innovation.  The idea is not enough; it must be launched in a way that fits how customers embrace new ideas.

Stephen Wunker is the Managing Director of New Markets Advisors.  Read more of our thinking on innovation capabilities.

Topics: Innovation Capabilities, Strategy, Forbes, Early Mover, Consumer Products