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Disruptive Change: When Trying Harder is Part of the Problem

By Clark Gilbert, Joseph L. Bower

When a company faces a major disruption in its markets, managers' perceptions of the disruption influence how they respond to it. If, for instance, they view the disruption as a threat to their core business, managers tend to overreact, committing too many resources too quickly. But if they see it as an opportunity, they're likely to commit insufficient resources to its development. Clark Gilbert and Joseph Bower explain why thinking in such stark terms—threat or opportunity—is dangerous. It's possible, they argue, to arrive at an organizational framing that makes good use of the adrenaline a threat creates as well as of the creativity an opportunity affords. The authors claim that the most successful companies frame the challenge differently at different times: When resources are being allocated, managers see the disruptive innovation as a threat. But when the hard strategic work of discovering and responding to new markets begins, the disruptive innovation is treated as an opportunity. The ability to reframe the disruptive technology as circumstances evolve is not an easy skill to master, the authors admit. In fact, it might not be possible without adjusting the organizational structure and the processes governing new business funding. Successful companies, the authors have determined, tend to do certain things: They establish a new venture separate from the core business; they fund the venture in stages as markets emerge; they don't rely on employees from the core organization to staff the new business; and they appoint an active integrator to manage the tensions between the two organizations, to name a few. This article will help executives frame innovations in more balanced ways—allowing them to recognize threats but also to seize opportunities.

Article available for purchase at Harvard Business Review

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