10 characteristics that support disruptive innovation in media

By Kirk MacDonald

Pyrrhonian Partners

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


We are living in a world of confusion, which makes the pursuit of market-changing ideas doubly difficult. Doubly risky. And doubly rewarding.

Disruptive innovation, according to Wikipedia, is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing market-leading firms, products, and services.

It is also an “attitude” that demands a different approach.

One trait that singles success in disruptive innovation is clarity of purpose — from the board to management to employees.
One trait that singles success in disruptive innovation is clarity of purpose — from the board to management to employees.

Before companies can innovate to disrupt existing firms, products, or services, an attitude adjustment and new outlook are necessary. Embracing both of these is often the first stage of launching something new that is unfamiliar to employees and customers; this usually elicits negative responses such as “that will never work.”

At its core, disruptive innovation is a massive change to traditional practices transforming the course of a company. Transition focuses on marginal improvement of existing practices.

One of the subtleties of pursuing disruptive innovation is its financial purpose. Is this profit or value growth? In my experience, the pursuit of disruptive innovation must focus on growth of enterprise value. Transitional strategies focus on EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization) improvement. The EV (enterprise value) or EBITDA measurement distinguishes between the two pursuits.

Another filter I believe is a behavioural indicator of a commitment to disruptive innovation is the degree of software enablement tools an organisation has already adopted. Many legacy organizations continue to use manual processes and substandard software (for example, content management systems and customer relationship management tools) in an attempt to remain competitive. Until organisations buy into software as a tool to enable growth, there is no reason to pursue disruptive innovation.

That said, unless an organisation has the right collective attitude and courage to disrupt a competitor or a sector by introducing something new, there is no reason to take on the multitude of risks that come with disruptive innovation.

Here are 10 attitude traits that enhance the odds of success:

  1. Clarity of purpose from the board to management to employees.
  2. Unwavering commitment to the desired outcome.
  3. View innovation through the lens of past, present, and future — not only in the media sector but other sectors as well.
  4. Beware of passive resistance.
  5. Be prepared to play the “long game.” Innovation takes endurance over time.
  6. Pick “go” or “end” dates and stay true to established timelines.
  7. Select a project leader and a project team and commit to “hands-off” management once the project is approved.
  8. Socialise development progress frequently at all levels of the organisation.
  9. Never compromise belief in the outcome.
  10. Regardless of where you sit in the organisation, support the strategy.

There is no right or wrong in the disruptive innovation game. There are many different approaches, but these are my experiential principles learned over time that have produced strategic clarity.

Disruptive innovation is not an easy path to choose, but choosing transitional improvement is difficult as well. Enjoy the journey.

About Kirk MacDonald

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