Disrupting Disruptive Innovation

I just finished reading a wonderful feature article in HBR’s December 2015 issue titled, What Is Disruptive Innovation? It appears that since Clayton Christensen introduced the theory about twenty years ago, its meaning has taken on a life of its own. This has apparently resulted in frequent misapplication and compromised utility. Michael Raynor and Rory McDonald joined Professor Christensen in answering critics and crafting an article that resets the term and reminds readers of its original definition. While I appreciate the intent of the piece and the value of the debate, I can’t help but question whether the natural evolution of any term, over time, weakens its value (as asserted in the piece) or gives it greater dimension. Why is disrupting disruptive innovation so bad?

When we interviewed Etienne Wenger-Trayner earlier this year for our upcoming book, The Power of Peers, he told us that when he and anthropologist Jean Lave introduced communities of practice in 1991, they gave language to something that was previously difficult to talk about. In the last 25 years or so, the term has evolved because Wenger-Trayner has continued to fine-tune it and because other researchers have contributed their own perspectives.

By describing what CEOs experience when they engage their peers more selectively, more strategically, and in a more disciplined and structured manner, we stood on the shoulders of Wenger-Trayner, Lave, and countless other contributors to expand the vocabulary further by coining the term peer advantage. This was our attempt to give language to what business leaders have been experiencing for decades.

To the writers of What is Disruptive Innovation?, you can split hairs about whether the advent of Uber is disruptive innovation or not based on the segment of the market to which it was introduced or you might consider asking any cab driver instead. In my view, it’s the cab driver who gets to make the call here, not the scholars. Disruptive Innovation is not a static concept, any more than communities of practice or peer advantage. Language is a living, breathing organism that adapts and grows to meet the needs of an ever-evolving society.

Twenty years from now, it’s my hope is that scholars and CEOs alike will build on disruptive innovation, communities of practice, and peer advantage. By contributing their own research and experiences, they will be the ones who will contemporize the concepts and assure their relevance for decades to come.  I’d rather these concepts be part of the language twenty years from now than not.

Advantage: Peers

In our upcoming book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth, & Success, among many examples, we showcase peer advantage as it exists at the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team – a team that renowned statistician Nate Sliver called “the most dominant basketball team on earth.”

Last Monday night, top-ranked Connecticut showcased its dominance once again on the road in the team’s season opener, defeating #7 Ohio State University (OSU) 100-56. Keep in mind that just a few nights earlier, OSU played #2 ranked South Carolina and with less than 3 minutes to play, the game was tied 78-78 before the Gamecocks eventually pulled away, winning 88-80. Whether this indicates that South Carolina may have some work to do before the team plays UConn in February is hard to say, but it certainly raises the question.

Commenting on the game and the margin of victory, head coach Geno Auriemma told ESPN’s Graham Hays: “…we’re not one of these teams that we get up a little bit and we relax. I don’t have those kinds of players. We don’t practice like that, and I don’t coach like that.”  While other basketball programs have great coaches and top talent also, Connecticut continues to separate itself from the field by chasing perfection in pursuit of excellence and having players who sacrifice individual goals for the good of the team.  Coach Auriemma may set the tone, but the culture of accountability and drive to win national championships among the players is what makes Connecticut a cut about the rest. Just imagine the implications of such a culture for any organization, no matter what its goals.

Our publisher, Bibliomotion, has scheduled the release of the book on March 22, 2016. Coincidentally, The Power of Peers will be available just as the women’s division 1 basketball tournament is about to get underway.  In the meantime, if you’ve never seen UConn play and you want to see something really special, check out UConn’s schedule, tune in, and watch a few games. I started 20 years ago, and I’ve been watching and marveling ever since.

*Update: 2/15/2016: UConn beat South Carolina handily in front of a sellout crowd on the Gamecocks’ home court.

Peer Advantage – A Matter of Perspective

I’ve come across a number of blog posts over the past several months that describe joining a peer advisory group for business leaders as “not inexpensive” or “not cheap.”  As if to imply that cost is an obstacle to joining.  I also heard a story recently about a CEO who was being recognized for ten years of membership in his CEO peer advisory group.  The member (we’ll call him John) accepted his ten year plaque and joked that it cost him well over a hundred thousand dollars in dues.  John quickly acknowledged, however, that it was an investment that earned him millions in increased sales and profits, and that he’s become a better CEO and today enjoys a healthier work-life balance.  It’s why John is embarking on his second decade of membership.

If you’ve ever climbed to the top of a step ladder and looked down, you probably noticed that the ground appeared to be a lot farther away than you expected and that the view is quite different at the top.   Similarly, if you’ve never been part of a CEO peer advisory group, it’s hard to imagine the quality of the experience and what it could mean for you unless you take a look for yourself.   Peer influence is something we intuitively understand; peer advantage (the result of being more selective, strategic and structured in how we engage our peers) is almost unfathomable unless you change your perspective.

It makes perfect sense that non-members tend to see joining a group as an added cost – one that involves money and time – without knowing if they’ll be any return on their investment.    Yet from the perspective of peer advisory group members who have made the investments and have the luxury of reflecting (even basking) on the exponential return(s), the view is far different.  I’ve heard CEOs credit their group for everything from helping them exponentially grow their companies and guiding them in making key strategic decisions to saving their marriages and putting balance back in their lives.

Doris Kearns Goodwin tells a story of attending a seminar led by famed developmental psychologist Erik Erikson.  According to Goodwin, Erikson said, “The richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love, and play.  And that to pursue one realm to the disregard of the others is to open oneself to ultimate sadness in older age. Whereas to pursue all three with equal dedication is to make possible a life full not only with achievement, but with serenity.”

I can’t think of a more eloquent description of what so many CEOs and business leaders have expressed about what experiencing peer advantage has meant to them.   As the non-member evaluates joining a group from a place of it being “not inexpensive” or “not cheap,” the peer advisory group member holds a priceless gem that continues to increase in value.   It’s all a matter of perspective.

Creed and Your Conversational Capacity

It’s funny how some of our biggest aha moments can come to us in the most unexpected places if we’re paying attention. For me, one of these aha moments came during a movie trailer prior to the start of the latest installment of the Bond series, SPECTRE.   For those of you who are familiar with the ROCKY movies (which I would imagine is pretty much everyone), Sylvester Stallone brings us CREED.  It’s the story of Apollo Creed’s son Adonis and the role Rocky plays as his eventual trainer. In the last clip of the trailer, Rocky and Adonis are standing in front of a mirror wall. Adonis has his gloves on and hands up. As they stare into the mirror, Rocky says, “See this guy here. That’s the toughest opponent you’re ever gonna have to face. I believe that’s true in the ring, and I think that’s true in life.”

Now flash back two days, where I attended a four-hour workshop led by author and principal of The Weber Consulting Group, Craig Weber.   Craig led a brilliant session on improving our conversational capacity, based on his 2013 book, Conversational Capacity: The Secret to Building Successful Teams That Perform When the Pressure is On. The core principle at work here is that if you’re ever going to be an effective communicator; if you’re ever going to be successful at having uncomfortable conversations; and if you’re ever going to create an environment where your team can talk openly and honestly without being defensive or trying to win an argument at another person’s expense, you have to keep your ego in check each and every day.   Because when it comes to building your conversational capacity, in business and in life, your toughest opponent is you.

What made Craig’s session so effective is that he not only gave us the mindset, but also imparted the skill sets necessary for expanding our conversational capacity and improving our ability to operate in what he calls the “sweet spot.”   I encourage you to read his book for two reasons –one of them unabashedly selfish. 1) I believe you’ll find the content to be incredibly valuable both inside the ring (business) and in life (personal relationships). 2) The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth, & Success, which I co-authored with Leon Shapiro, will hit the shelves in March, 2016.   Since our book covers why our peers are so crucial to our success and happiness, I can’t think of a better complementary text – because you’ll never truly realize the full value of your peer relationships unless you possess the conversational capacity to do so.

I hope you read both books, get out to a movie once in awhile, and be on the lookout for your next aha moment!