Disruption Mastery: The Craft of Agile Complexity

Nov 30, 2021

9 Min Read

To address the world’s complicated challenges, incremental improvements are no longer sufficient. Businesses that grasp Agile complexity will usher in a new era of disruptive innovation.

When systems created to address one need are confronted with fundamentally divergent demands, a global health catastrophe shows the disruptive issue. It might be attractive for innovators to rush in and excitedly propose a slew of discoveries based on well-established service and product innovation processes in this setting. As they race to answer particular demands, fast-moving teams frequently use cutting-edge technology to engage people, fail rapidly, and learn quickly.

The breadth of these focused solutions is purposefully constrained, limiting their influence. “We had software developers continuously coming up with new, worthless Ebola apps,” Dr. Hans Rosling lamented during the Ebola outbreak (apps were their hammers, and they were desperate for Ebola to be a nail). However, no one was keeping track of whether the activity was effective or not.” The harsh reality is that piecemeal innovations cannot tackle significant systems issues. They need significantly more ambitious system solutions to meet them.

The need for system-level innovation isn’t only a global issue. Every sector is confronted with the possibility of radical transformation, existential challenges that commodify markets or render a company’s function obsolete. Responding to these status quo changes requires a new set of innovative skills. You need the capacity to design bold, innovative systems that provide more extensive answers to more complex challenges.

The Allure of Continuous Improvement

In most cases, incremental improvements are a wise investment. These well-defined, concentrated changes offer a clear route to expanding on previous success. They make something that already functions a little bit better or a little bit larger.

  •  Updating technologies and improving performance
  •  Features are being added or refined.
  •  Taking use of nearby chances

These investments are simple to justify since each improvement is founded based on proven success. Furthermore, since gradual change is based on the established order, it is simple to design and implement. Few individuals will be terminated for being successful at this type of consistent progress in a stable workplace.

Three Disruptive Threats

Until it isn’t, incremental progress is a good technique. The circumstances that have allowed the status quo to succeed for so long will alter, exposing the company to three horrifically disruptive threats.

The halt of growth may be the start of disruption. The formerly limitless potential of the status quo has now reached a point where incremental improvements are no longer sufficient to achieve new levels of success.

As the market develops and new rivals enter, even holding to previous success becomes harder. Primary advantages, esteem, and profitability are all eroded as a consequence of commercialization.

Even more catastrophic is the chance that disruptive new competitors would produce a whole new service, rendering incumbents obsolete. These game-changers “hit the market simultaneously better, cheaper, and more tailored, demonstrating winner take all outcomes,” as Larry Downes and Paul Nunes put it in Big Bang Disruption.

When the status quo’s underpinnings are washed away, there is no way to reap the benefits of a succession of minor, well-executed improvements. Only a radical shift to a different value proposition can pave the way for future expansion. This isn’t earth-shattering information. Everyone has heard tales of previously respected organizations that have abruptly come to a halt.

Under Clear Skies, a Ship is Abandoned

As described by World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a period in history where development “evolves at an exponential rather than a linear speed.” Furthermore, it is causing havoc in almost every business in every nation. And the depth and breadth of these developments portend a complete overhaul of the industry, administrative, and governance systems.”

There’s plenty of evidence that this isn’t just exaggeration, which raises the obvious question: why aren’t more leaders preceding the comfortable security of incremental innovation in favor of technological disruption? Why isn’t deliberately challenging established systems and laying the groundwork for a new center-ground commonplace?

The first rationale is based on foresight and bravery. Disruption often occurs without warning, leaving you with little time to develop an adequate reaction. The first indicators of problems are generally undetectable, but once established, they progress swiftly. This demands courageous, self-assured adjustment far in advance of most of the company being confronted with an urgent requirement. It’s analogous to leaving the ship while the weather is still pleasant.

Dead Ends in the Creative Process

The ability to effectively reimagine an organization requires more than just courage and insight. There’s a bigger problem to solve, one that’s based on innovative processes.

While every company management student is taught the need for gradual progress, these tried-and-true methods are unsuited to the demand of disruptive innovation.

Even yet, when faced with existential challenges, organizations often fall back on their tried-and-true toolset, depending on incremental ideas and tactics to bring about transformational change. Unfortunately, tiny, gradual change technologies lead to three innovative dead ends when used for larger projects.

Thinking in terms of silver bullets (small). Incremental innovators use inspiration-driven brainstorming tactics to find a silver bullet solution that will save the day. Unfortunately, ideas that match on a thread note can rarely generate a unique value proposition with disruptive potential.

Ridiculous problem-solving (simplistic). There are several difficulties on the globe. While it is simple to point to a problem and provide a simple remedy, naive solutions to complex issues sometimes ignore the causes of the problems.

Second-best alternatives (subpar). There is a tremendous amount of creative potential available worldwide. Every interesting challenge or fascinating opportunity has a slew of creative people already working on it. It is insufficient to solve a problem to shine out from the inescapable mass of innovative rivals; the answer must be both original and extraordinary.

It may be exasperating for “brave” change agents to dismiss their ideas by others who comprehend the magnitude of creative change required to disrupt the status quo. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions and best efforts, an iterative approach to development is just not up to the task of self-disruption.

To make up for these deficiencies, large budgets are sometimes utilized. Technology re-platforming efforts, for example, are often positioned as evidence of an organization’s commitment to the long term. Even though these initiatives use trimming technology, they often re-create apps that maintain the status quo.

Using Complexity to Create

Incremental innovation often fails due to the complicated nature of disruptive prospects. The current system is not a minor or insignificant issue. To replace it, a complete system must create benefits differently and innovatively. These ambitious tactics need a linked network of characters, activities, and resources rather than new products and services.

When you look at the cutting-edge concepts that have revolutionized their industries in the past, you’ll notice that they were complicated systems with a lot of moving pieces, several players, and well-designed incentives. To intentionally create this type of disruptive potential, a company must develop, build, and deploy a system that has the following features:

Scale and complexity. To have a significant influence, the system should be adequately intelligent and complicated. It must provide a viable solution to a big issue.

Consistency and completeness. The 80/20 rule is inapplicable to systems. It’s not enough to complete the most crucial 20%. Only when all of the pieces of a complex system operate together can it be considered viable. It is not enough to have naive, half-baked notions.

Unparalleled quality. In today’s competitive environment, the proposed program must gather unique resources, thoughts, and talents that are difficult to duplicate. It must accomplish something challenging while maintaining its individuality and brilliance.

The status quo’s earlier success was very definitely due to these similar forces. The disruptive innovator’s task is to determine how to achieve this degree of complexity, thoroughness, and uniqueness in a future system.

Embarking on a Complexity Adventure

Creating complicated systems may be a thrilling experience. The world provides a vast toolset of players, resources, and tools for the systems innovator to exploit in realizing daring new ideas. To reap the benefits of this creative wealth, you’ll need to go on a recent sort of creative trip.

Step 1: Simplify Complexity/Look at Systems

Disruptive problems and opportunities may be built from diverse individuals and activities, resulting in exciting developments that provide many creative possibilities. Visualize how the organization’s tangled ecosystem operates, define the diversified toolset of technologies and resources, and rigorously examine possible users, partners, and collaborators as a first step towards complexity.

It is feasible to communicate and think about complicated topics when these large patterns and systems are visible. Surprisingly, many businesses have inadequate capacity to perceive or communicate the larger picture of their industry or even their operations. A broad, comprehensive viewpoint requires thinking that extends beyond the narrow focus of day-to-day activity. Individuals and departments in most companies have perfected a close-up perspective of their respective parts of the elephant, but there are still some (if any) photographs of the whole beast.

A splintered worldview is a terrible foundation for creative, big-picture thinking. If organizational members want to work together to develop innovative ideas, they must pool their disparate perspectives and build a common understanding of how the world functions as a whole. Visual models that simplify the murky complexity underlying a network of interrelated players, resources, and functions are ideal for capturing this broad picture view.

Step 2: Create a Target System in your mind.

Incremental innovators may concentrate on well-defined problems. On the other hand, disruptive chances are built on original systems that break through barriers and function in fundamentally new ways. This isn’t a minor tweak or addition to an already-understood reality. Disruptive product leaders deliberately vent into the uncharted, improving the existing quo’s basis with a reinvented cast of characters, roles, and tools.

A creative issue is created when the scope of the vision is matched with the amount of ambiguity. It’s not viable to thread together a sequence of opportunistic tweaks in the hopes of creating an elegantly designed system that alters the game’s rules. At the same time, a journey towards the building of complex systems cannot be planned entirely ahead of time. There are just too many unknowns, dependencies, and emergent behaviors to be found and handled along the way.

The disruptive inventor solves this problem by imagining a future target system. The main characters, relationships, incentives, and resources that come together to build a functioning system are highlighted in this large picture depiction of how the world may operate. While not every aspect will be established, this comprehensive perspective of the objective system serves as a beacon in the distance, guiding a long-term creative voyage.

Step 3: Innovate for the Future

Disruptive innovation’s ultimate objective is to establish a complete, unique system that pioneers new ways to produce value. Although the goal vision gives a comprehensive picture of the eventual solution, the issue of how this transformational new system would be implemented in reality remains unanswered.

It’s much too hazardous to attempt to divide the project into pieces and then assemble the details in the end, hoping that everything would come together miraculously. There are just too many unknowns, uncertainties, and things to learn as the project develops. Consequently, the tangle of interrelated individuals and activities must grow as part of a complex and evolving world in its own right.

This evolutionary path may be navigated using thin slices of the final system. Each thin slice creates a new capacity in which numerous system pieces cooperate and interact with one another. The thin slice enables the inventor to assess whether the various components will interact as intended. It also delivers insights that allow you to pivot around obstacles and explore previously unimagined possibilities.

The creative path is intentionally open-ended, with the possibility of involving the whole company, its partners and attracting new collaborators. Each slice brings the effort a little closer to the objective vision, which may be tweaked and altered as the system progresses.

Establish an Agile Organization

This graceful dance with complexity may conflict with organizations built on top-down management and stringent operational processes. Generally, well-respected best practices such as rigorous project management or even separate innovation laboratories fail to provide the necessary support for disruptive system innovation.

To facilitate the emergence of disruptive new technology, a more agile business must be built. Due to the large variety of stakeholders involved in ambitious system change, the whole organization will need to engage in a series of investigations and adaptations. It will not be sufficient to delegate change to a specifically trained and empowered team; a broader range of individuals and institutions will need to collaborate to create the change.

Agility must be built as an enterprise capacity, allowing for the adaptation and contribution of every section of the company to the creative journey. This necessitates the development of new procedures and incentives centered on creating and testing tiny slices of system change. Both thinking and institutions must become much more flexible and future-oriented.

This kind of organizational change is transformational in and of itself. The incentives for mastering agile complexity, on the other hand, are enormous. Every industry is undergoing revolutions of change, and few firms will maintain the status quo. Acquiring proficiency in disruption is an audacious and exciting path ahead.


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