Why disruption eats innovation for breakfast

Of all the tired corporate clichés out there, ‘disruption’ is up there with the best. It’s used when we want to emphasise another cliché: ‘innovation’. The distinction between these two meanings is actually quite useful when not bumbling out of the mouth, or off the pen, of try-hard marketing types like myself. So, let’s look at what they mean and why it matters.

Defining the difference
Innovation can be defined simply as a "new idea, device or method".Mr Wiki adds that it’s viewed as “the application of better solutions that meet new requirements”.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business professor, defined a disruptive product as one that either “addresses a market that previously couldn’t be served – a new-market disruption – or it offers a simpler, cheaper or more convenient alternative to an existing product – a low-end disruption”.

Outside of the cycling industry, Tesla is a prime example of new-market disruption. Now, Tesla itself may not have invented the electric car, but its combination of affordable battery technology and design set new consumer expectations. Sticking with the car industry but using the ‘low-end disruption’ example is Tata in India. When it released the Nano in 2008, it cost $1,500. This changed lives and industries, and again set new expectations.

Innovation is about inputs, while disruption is about outcomes. Disruption is the direct effect on the customer, such as a new pricing structure or a new offering, whereas innovation simply encompasses new ideas and methods. Where innovation is an evolution of a single product, disruption is the revolution of an entire category.

Why it matters
Without industry disruptors, our trade – which has not seen growth for a number of years – would be in jeopardy of becoming irrelevant. Like badminton.

It’s not enough to innovate if we tell ourselves that tiny changes really matter. It’s this type of thinking that:

– Props up ‘safe’ approaches – some manufacturers outsource their design to the engineers at the factory because it just needs to work, not work well

– Encourages bad tactics that attempt to pull the wool over customers’ eyes. For example, some bike light brands create narrow beams on low output lights, making them appear brighter when pointing them at the floor in a shop

– Provokes copycat products. The most inventive brands pay the heaviest price, either through paying for IP protective processes and legal measures, or worse, not investing in them. Fewer copies mean more incentive to innovate, which results in better products. The whole industry has a stake in stamping out this problem.

These habits are undesirable, but understandable – after all, they are a direct consequence of the extreme pressure on the industry.

Needless to say, Knog takes the opposite approach. Huge changes are what matter. Brands must disrupt, and divert their focus from inputs to outcomes. They must take risks and commit to world-class design. Don’t copy, and don’t tolerate those who copy – it’s theft.

Make friends who agree
This approach shapes who we partner with. Within retail, we prioritise IBDs in our brand thinking, but we don’t forget multi-store chains in our commerciality. After all, these are the two pillars of disruption – new product and new pricing.

We also seek out leaders in distribution. In the US, we use Highway Two, which handpicks a discerningly small selection of brands. In Germany, Cosmic has partnered with us for years and has sold more Oi than any other, leading the charge in IP protection, and in the Nordics we now partner with Shimano, who need no introduction.

We shifted our distribution in the UK to Silverfish in 2016. It shares our prioritisation of – aside from life over business – a design philosophy for “unboring things”. We love our products, we innovate, we aim to cause disruption, and we think that Silverfish do too. Please value original thinking, provoke innovation, and ultimately create disruption in the process.

This article was written by Sam Moore, Knog head of brand and marketing.

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