What we think we know about innovation is completely wrong.

What we think we know about innovation is completely wrong. That is the conclusion of Clayton Christensen, the man who coined the term ‘Disruptive Innovation’ in the 1990s – and here at Taylor Vinters, we couldn’t agree more.

Not only is ‘disruptive innovation’ in danger of buzzword over-kill, diluting the powerful concept it conveys, but its’ overuse could be clouding the genuine range of innovation that we see growing businesses far beyond the technology sector.

What exactly is disruptive innovation?

Mr Christensen, in an article in the Harvard Business Review co-authored with Michael Raynor and Rory McDonald, argues that disruption “describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses”.

A key hypothesis is that “disruptive innovations [only] originate in low-end or new-market footholds”. Uber is just one example. As highlighted by Christensen, Raynor and McDonald, the company is transforming the taxi business but not disrupting it. Why? Because it didn’t start from a new market or focus first on offering a service to low-end customers.

With this theory in mind, there are many new technologies and entrepreneurial companies which may be shaking up their industries but wouldn’t tick the disruptive innovation box. Uber is, however, a huge success story, so do monikers such as ‘disruptive’ and ‘innovative’ really matter?

Innovation beyond the tech sector

Working with a broad range of businesses, we see examples of innovation on an almost daily basis – and not just driven by companies involved in developing cutting-edge technology.

Organisations of all shapes and sizes and across a diverse range of sectors are innovating – doing things differently. But rather than focusing on just one element such as creating a new market, they are taking a more holistic approach which generates value across the whole organisation.

In the property sector for example, Amy Lynch Associate Real Estate describes Berkeley Homes as using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to improve the purchasing experience for prospective homebuyers and drive sales. This technology enables those seeking to buy off plan to view properties with virtual reality headsets in 3D and through 360 degrees.

Our work in the charitable sector has also revealed innovative strategies, which are maximising resources and ensuring that the needs of those they support are met more effectively. Caroline Eade Partner at Taylor Vinters says Austica, the UK’s largest and leading autism research charity, is a case in point.

It has designed its research strategy to ensure a more coherent approach to investment. Rather than being based on the beliefs of scientists, the research is structured following consultation with individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, so is more focused on addressing vital needs.

The Teenage Cancer Trust has also significantly improved its care and support for young people with cancer by developing a more integrated model. Through a process of complex collaboration with the NHS, it ran a successful pilot in the North West to define and implement a new nursing and support service. This extends its work beyond its existing 28 units, enabling 16-24 year olds to choose to be treated in their local hospital and at home. The new service will be rolled out across the whole of the UK over the coming years, giving control back to young people with cancer to choose how and where they want to be treated.

In the rural/agricultural sector, Andrew Williamson, Partner Private Client at Taylor Vinters has worked with an entrepreneurial farmer who has increased his income stream by considering the land asset in a different way. Recognising the limitations of his farm, he used his own funds to install solar panels for one of the houses on his land and then borrowed money to build a biomass boiler to supply heat and energy to the main house.

The farmer subsequently secured planning permission for a large solar array on the farm and sells this electricity to the national grid. Not only is this helping him to save money but maximising the potential of his land, with further plans now in the pipeline for diversifying the farm.

Conclusion

Whether you agree with Mr Christensen’s strict definition of disruptive innovation, or you consider it all to be part of the same seam of entrepreneurialism, we think it is important to fight the buzzword onslaught and consider innovation far broader than just the technology sector.

Our experience – both within Taylor Vinters itself and among our entrepreneurial clients – has taught us that innovation can take multiple forms. On the eve of events like the Wired 2016 conference (starting 3 November), which is almost a by-word for bleeding-edge technological ‘disruptive’ innovation, it is important that we recognise and support these organisations that have the vision and desire to do things differently and, in turn, evolve their model, services or approaches.

In supporting a broader definition of innovators, as well as the traditional ‘disruptive’ innovators, those enterprises can achieve their growth ambitions and we the market and society all benefit too.

If you are an entrepreneur or lead an innovative business, talk to one of our lawyers today to see how we can help you grow your business. Please contact Matt Meyer E: matt.meyer@taylorvinters.com