Digital Transformation

Disruption and cooperation go hand-in-hand in innovation

Hybrid Integration Platform

UPDATED 10/31/18

Disruption and innovation are two highly over-used words. I should know, I used them as currency for the longest time. Both words elicit the emotions of dominance and competition, something that drives Type-A personalities like me.

Disruption of innovation

In college, my past time was amateur MMA. There is nothing more engaging than the big “clink” of the gate to a 32 ft. chain link fenced octagon to signal the beginning of a Mano A Mano–a nine-minute effort to disrupt each other. But it’s my recent efforts in the world of small- to medium-sized enterprises that have taught me the true meaning of these words. This reflection happened as part of my recent work in designing digital business ecosystems; disruption is not about competition, is about cooperation.

For those of you who use the term disruption or disruptive innovation, I encourage you to put those phrases on the shelf until you have read “The Innovators Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen. The book describes how many people have taken the idea of disruption and used it to exemplify some type of company-to-company-cowboy-rockstar-approach to knocking the proverbial stuffing out of each other; like it’s some type of corporate MMA match. That couldn’t be further from the truth.


The core concept of disruption is not company centric; it’s customer-centric. Disruptive innovation is not a thing you do, it’s an outcome. It’s validation of a new value proposition that creates a new market or value network, which in turn, disrupts an existing value network or market by replacing established market leaders.

Companies don’t start out being disruptive, they start out experimenting with new products for markets, which may (or may not) grow into something big. When these products, or services, grow big enough to upend established market leaders, the company has demonstrated an ability to disrupt. When starting down the new value prop road, the best thing to do is build an ecosystem And by building an ecosystem, I mean collaboration.

Collaboration is a loaded word. How many times a day do you hear it? “We should be more collaborative” or “great collaboration.” The word collaboration has become idiomatic, and given its context, either means “You could be doing a better job” or “Thank You.” What does it really mean in practice? Let’s change our vocabulary from this point forward; it isn’t about collaboration, but co-creation.


Building an ecosystem is a co-creational effort which exponentially delivers value to those who live within it. Ecosystems allow for value creation simply because they broaden the ability to explore and exploit useful value propositions.

This characteristic is of great importance when thinking in terms of today’s digital business. Digital technology reduces communication friction which allows for the building of larger, more specific and highly valued ecosystems through co-creation.

Digital ecosystems, by their very nature, allow for quick identification and experimentation of value among early markets. Ecosystem co-creational efforts generate quick customer-centric feedback. Said another way, digital business ecosystems are low-friction mechanisms to explore and exploit new value propositions using co-creational tactics.

Swift customer feedback, appropriate, rapid assessments and concise action is the precursor for innovation. Innovation is customer adoption of new value propositions. Disruption is when the adoption grows such that the innovation up-ends current market leaders.

The questions we should be asking ourselves are how do we co-create? How do we facilitate an ecosystem of value discovery and delivery? How do we co-create such that we are awarded the honorable badge of disruptor by our customers?

Learn more about digital transformation and innovation here.