What can be easier than changing a light bulb?
For a month now, there has been no light in the entry hall. I live in a small self-managed New York City building. The people who live here are all busy professionals, so it took some time for us to get annoyed with the dark inconvenience. And then we started… The light fixture is very elegant and six years ago was probably super expensive. We quite liked it and wanted to fix it by simply changing the light bulbs. We opened the cover and it turned out that the bulbs were of a very rare variety. After some research, one of us found a replacement online. The bulbs that arrived few days later, however, were too long. A week later someone bought another set. The result: power consumption incompatible with the system. When we finally found the right replacement parts, the price tag was substantial.
So we stopped and asked the “what if” question
What if we forget the nice, elegant solution that served us so well for the last years and see if we can get the hallway lit another way. The end result? At a cost lower than replacement parts for the old system, we have a new one, consuming five times less energy. But we also realized, a couple hundreds of dollars and an equivalent of several billable hours was used to fix a fifteen-minute problem.
As it turned out changing the entire system was faster, cheaper and more efficient that trying to fix the old one.
It’s not the latest hype
Many of you cringed when I used the term “disruptive innovation”. Long before Christiansen coined the term, disruptive innovation has been propelling the evolution. One of the early innovators figured that instead of attacking a beast with a big stone in hand, they can tie a small rock to a stick shot from a bow. But let’s not get all tangled up in the dispute on the Disruptive Innovation Theory. Rapid innovation of our times will continue, regardless of what academics choose to call the next big management theory.
Stop digging the hole
W.E Deming used to say that hard work and best efforts will only dig deeper the hole we are in.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to stop
Let go of the elegant solution. Open up to the possibilities. Hard work and best efforts should help you grow—not maintain the status quo.
Remember the purpose
The ceiling light is there to illuminate the room. When we focused on finding the replacement parts for the old system, we lost sight of its purpose and spent many hours literally in the dark. Once we stopped trying to fix the problem, and thought about the underlying purpose—we were ready for the next step.
Ask the “what if” question
After you identify the purpose of the system you are trying to fix, ask if it can be achieved differently from what you are used to. It may turn out that one of the possible solutions will be easier, faster or even better that the established one.
Pull the trigger
Many factors may hold you back from deciding on the change: politics, opinions, past performance, strong support for the established solution. The “innovators dilemma” is a tough choice. You may deliver a value by adding new patches to the existing system, or deliver the same value by switching to a new model. Whatever you choose, don’t let the indecision stop you. If changing the entire system is not an option, try it on a smaller scale first. For example, don’t change the reporting of an entire company but try it with one department first.
At today’s pace of innovation, those who keep an open mind and adapt—win (Netflix). Likewise, those who focus a lot of energy on re-modeling existing systems—may go bust (Blockbuster). Disruptive innovation is not just about “to be or not to be” of a business. It is applicable to many smaller problems and following the simple path described above, can save you a great deal of time and effort.
So next time you have and opportunity for a disruptive improvement—give it a try.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn