Join the Jindal School Community!


The “Shelf Life” of Sustainable Competitive Advantage

read ( words)

Innovative ideas are leading to extraordinary disruption and wholesale market transformation. Netflix, Uber and Dollar Shave Club have disrupted Blockbuster, cab company valuations and major consumer-products companies, the latter to the point that Unilever agreed to buy Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion.

CEOs are grappling with how to take advantage of innovation before they are beaten by it. In KPMG’s U.S. CEO Outlook 2016, fostering innovation was second on the list of concerns, surpassed only by meeting customer demands….which, one could well argue, is the point of innovation. In brief:

  • 76 percent of CEOs surveyed believe their businesses could be disrupted by companies they don’t even think of as threats.
  • So, it is not surprising that 77 percent of the CEOs say it’s important to include innovation in their business strategies.
  • Yet, 85 percent say they don’t have enough time to strategize about responding to disruption with innovation.
  • And, 36 percent say their companies’ approach to innovation is still siloed, outsourced or unpredictable.

Strategic innovators understand the importance of the constant renewal of their business. All too often, the trappings of success blind executives to the impending peril of market shifts. The truth — succeeding in business has never been easier or more difficult.

We have more tools at our disposal than ever before. This includes things like cloud storage, online and video collaboration platforms and cutting-edge mobile apps that take business out of the mundane and place the power directly in the hands of consumers. The cost of innovation has gotten cheaper, but there is little recognition of the consequences of standing still. We’re watching survival of the fittest play out before us at a record-breaking clip. The question for us all: Will my business be relevant tomorrow?

When disruption appears on your doorstep, the original threat seems laughably insignificant and rarely starts with a big bang. Most disruptions begin quietly as a curious novelty, but quickly turn the market on its head. The graveyard of corporate America is littered with companies that failed to heed the consequence of “standing pat.” The very thing that propels the large enterprise is also the reason that true disruptive innovation will be stalled, the inertia of the existing business.

So, what are we to do to avoid becoming part of the “Corporate Graveyard” of America? We must first embrace diversity of thought as a part of our process. Teams that are diverse are more likely to conceive creative ideas than those with similar backgrounds or skills. We are living in an age where four generations are part of the labor force. As a baby boomer, I’ve learned to welcome the ideas of the Generation X crowd, the millennials and soon Gen 2020.

In a diverse workforce, a shift in mindset that encourages discussion, challenge and debate will yield better outcomes. Be prepared to test new ideas quickly and move on if they lack market acceptance. The mantras we use in entrepreneurship are: “Fail often in order to succeed sooner” and “Spend a little, learn a lot.”

Disruptive innovation can surprise us anytime, anywhere, but it’s not always easy to spot. We know innovation when we see it, but it’s often too late. As an entrepreneur and former Apple CEO John Sculley once said, “The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.”

Innovation is a team activity. Expecting a designated “lone genius” or even a few select individuals to keep the enterprise from the threat of turbulence is reckless. The only way we can surmount disruption and even become the disruptor is for everyone in the entire organization to keep their heads on a swivel.

Great innovators like Steve Jobs and Henry Ford lived by the motto, “The best way to be ready for the future is to invent it.” Remember, true innovators push ideas that are so bizarre they have the possibility to change everything.

Jackie Kimzey

Jackie Kimzey is a senior lecturer of organizations, strategy and international management academic area. Read more articles

Subscribe to JSOM Perspectives, one stop shop for everything you want to know about JSOM

Subscribe to receive our freshest post in your inbox every two weeks!