Everybody Wants to Be an Innovator

February 20, 2020 • ILE LAB • Boaz Tamir

The test of an innovation’s quality is the clarity of its purpose, not its technical sophistication

  The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”
      Thomas Edison

Christensen’s code

What is innovation? Who is an innovator? And what is new in the innovation conversation? The term “innovation” has been overused, and is currently applied to diverse actions and objects without a coherent definition.

Clayton Christensen, who passed away at the end of January 2020, lived to see his theory of innovation realized by Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Howard Schultz, Brian Chesky, and others. These super entrepreneurs, and many others, succeeded in realizing Christensen’s theory of disruptive technology in their fields: the combination of worldview and mindset. The worldview (for whom?) makes the improvement of the client-user’s lifestyle its purpose and the thing that defines the value of the technology. When this worldview becomes a mindset and methodology for managing the value-creating process, a unique and innovative solution to the customer’s needs is created.

Steve Jobs provided his clients with a new way of consuming music and digital media, creating community connections and moving throughout the Internet. Jeff Bezos built a new model of consumption. Mark Zuckerberg turned the Internet into a social space for billions of people. Howard Schultz changed the way we understand coffee shops (Starbucks), and Brian Chesky redefined professional community relations (LinkedIn) and the way many people perceive travel and accommodations (Airbnb). Imagine what our living environment would look like without that group of disruptive technologies.

The customer’s work, the innovator’s work: three dimensions of meaning

According to Christensen, life is a dynamic process, in which a person needs a product or service in order to realize their desires and cope with their fears (“Jobs to be done“). An innovative invention process is based on applied science aimed at improving the customer’s quality of life and helping them do their jobs (WIIFM: What’s in it for me?).

Matching the product to the client is necessary, but complicated. The client is dynamic and goes through in different contexts throughout the course of their life, and the quality of the innovation is tested by providing a unique solution for their needs in each context: during school, career development, periods of self-discovery, starting a family, on vacation, at times of illness or crisis.

According to Christensen, the value and meaning the customer attaches to the new technology (User Experience – UX) depends on three dimensions: functional, emotional and social. I will illustrate this by looking at what two products have in common: smoking cigarettes and using Facebook. Smoking provides the consumer with a functional solution to their nicotine addiction, an emotional pause, and a social encounter with the group of excluded smokers during the smoking break outside of the work environment. As for Facebook, it addresses an addictive need (functional ) for communication and exposure, pleasure (emotional) gained by peeking into the lives of others or receiving likes, and the social satisfaction of going into one’s Facebook account to meet one’s personal community of “friends“.

As another example, Starbucks is not just another coffee shop (the network even removed the word coffee from its brand). The international network wishes to provide its clients with an accessible culinary platform, a homelike experience, a familiar work environment, and a social club for physical and digital encounters (Wi-Fi) with their reference group in the local neighborhood and the global village.

Technological sophistication is not the point

When it comes to market-disrupting innovative products, the depth of technological knowledge is not what matters. What does is adopting the technology to the client’s needs. That is why it is so important to define the organization’s purpose clearly: building tools (products, technologies) to enable clients to improve their lives. The purpose enables the innovative entrepreneur to organize and focus their financial and human resources on creating value for the customer (see “The Purpose Revolution is the Purpose of the Revolution“). Christensen’s contribution is the practical translation of the concept of “purpose” into operative features of creating value for the customer.

Christensen’s theory of innovation provides a point of view for examining the business status (rise or decline) of companies that proved outstanding in their technological development capacity, but demonstrated weakness in their innovation capacity and in adjusting their technology to their clients’ needs. Technology leaders such as IBM, Intel, Xerox and HP, are presently challenged by a group of innovative companies – Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Airbnb, Starbucks, Facebook, Spotify, Netflix, Tesla and Uber – that proved their capacity to adopt a disruptive technology in order to change customers’ lifestyles. The Israeli economic daily TheMarker recently asked in a headline: “How can it be that the airline (El Al) is worth less than its customer club?” The answer has to do with understanding the value proposition of the company and its customer club.

We don’t know who tomorrow’s market disruptors are yet, but rest assured that they are busy at work developing disruptive technologies in an evolutionary process that will change the human race’s lifestyle. Clayton Christensen gives innovative entrepreneurs a lesson in humility: they are not the heroes of the story; rather, they are the servants of their customers, the improvement of whose lives it is their job to enable. The success of an innovative entrepreneur and innovation depends on the ability to define the purpose of their actions. Without knowing (precisely) for whom and for what their innovation is going to work, they will not succeed.

 Boaz Tamir, ILE.

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