Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Innovator’s Dilemma – Disruptive Low-Tech

The two excerpts from “The Innovator’s Dilemma” are incredibly applicable to my professional life. In fact, the article “Discovering New and Emerging Markets” resonated with me so much that I shared the document and had an in-depth 3+ hour discussion over the content with my manager, the COO of the small business that I work for, this past Friday.  

The example of HP’s Kittyhawk Drive’s unsatisfactory market launch is representative of our forensic technology that we launched 4 years prior; we positioned the product for a market where competition was high, differentiation was low, and we outpriced ourselves. However, the market research suggested that we were in the exact spot that we needed to be, so we stayed the course. Even though we were able to detect sequences and substances at a far superior level than our competitors, customers did not require this ability. Essentially, the market research was not reflective of the behavioral patterns we experienced. Moreover, we were stubborn and did not pivot the direction of the technology to an unserved market.

While I currently work for a high-tech organization, I started to think about low-tech disruptors, especially as I used to work in the healthcare industry. Not every product brought to the marketplace represents cutting-edge technical advancements; some companies are simply meeting customer’s demands in a disruptive manner. In fact, the majority of Forbes’ “Most Disruptive Brands of 2015” list represents consumer industries (or people) who have changed the way people interact with goods and services. [1]

Consider Warby Parker, number 14 on Forbes’ list, who beat out Apple, Google and Samsung to be named Fast Company’s most innovative company of 2015. [2] Unlike many retailers, Warby Parker’s disruptive strategy isn’t necessarily smart frames (Warby Parker manufacturers their own frames to reduce price markups). Instead, they have burnished their reputation with strong customer service built on empathy. [2]

In the eyeglass space, most retailers wouldn’t associate empathy with increased revenue. But Warby Parker’s annual revenues top $100 million and have consistently grown over the last 5 years. “We look a lot for self-awareness and for empathy [in our employees],” co-CEO Neil Blumenthal said in an interview with the The Huffington Post. “I think it’s really hard to serve customers well if you’re not empathetic. I think it’s hard to collaborate with others if you’re not empathetic. I think the people that are the best at customer service are the ones who are the most empathetic.”

Although it was originally difficult for me to think about disruption in terms of the service or attitude a brand provides its companies, after some reflection I realized that I choose products based on my emotional reaction to them. Whether that be admiration in terms of a technological advance, satisfaction in terms of quality, or the feeling of belonging with camaraderie.

In summary, disruption isn’t just something high-tech companies have to manage. Moreover, handling disruption is an essential piece of service and retail firms, where consumers have many options to choose from.

Additionally, I’m glad that snippets from the Innovator’s Dilemma were brought up this week. The timely reminder of Kittyhawk and market research snafus will hopefully keep our new product on track. In fact, I may be purchasing a copy to keep me honest and continue my understanding of disruption.

-Abby (ahardt)

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