Companies often talk about the disruptive potential of their technology, but often misunderstand what it means. Disruption is described by the English dictionary as disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity, or process. When working with established industry incumbents to transform technology, disruption is the exact opposite of what we so called “disruptors” should be aiming for.

As well known US technology revolutionary Clay Christensen puts in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, a disruptive product is one which addresses a new market that previously couldn’t be served. Innovation, on the other hand, is transforming an existing market with new technology.

When working with established market players, the challenge is to innovate without disruption. It’s important to understand the many challenges faced by large corporations when they look to innovate, and the dangers that disruption can pose. Identifying problems first, before providing the solution is key and all too often technology providers build what they think is a solution before even confirming if there’s a problem it can solve.

The priority for large corporations is risk aversion, which does not typically mix well with innovation. In order to properly innovate, as an innovator, it is our role as technology solution providers to ensure that companies are able to meet their innovation goals, while being exposed to minimal risk.

This is particularly applicable when it comes to blockchain and distributed ledgers. The technology has huge transformative potential, if projects are not implemented correctly, they can lead to disruption, not innovation.

In order to innovate without disrupting, its important to follow a key set of guidelines:

  1. Have a broad project scope, but a very defined use case. Big change creates disruption, and while important to be able to demonstrate the long term opportunity, the concept should be validated on a low risk area of the project. This can sometimes be counter-intuitive, especially if the chosen area is not where the most long term value will be realized, but it’s important to solve the easy problems first, validate the concept, and then apply the same solution to the more complex problems.

  2. Education is paramount. Often individual project sponsors within companies struggle to sell projects internally because internal education of the technology is lacking.

  3. Break the project into incremental phases. Each phase should have a key set of validation criteria, and build on the previous phase. Initial phases should focus around technology goals and milestones, later stages on business validation. Breaking the project into phases allows companies to drastically reduce the risk of taking on new projects.

Technology solution providers need to focus on being innovators, not disruptors.