There is this little idea people like to talk about in hushed tones. It is scary. It is a definite unknown. It’s called disruptive innovation and most people are just too afraid to do anything about it.

Some businesses struggle to stay innovative throughout the years and so they end up getting overtaken by the competition.

Crash and Burn … and Rise

Ok, maybe that title was a little over the top. We were thinking about Dumbledore’s phoenix when we wrote that. In all fairness, the Wikipedia definition of disruptive innovation isn’t all that far off:

“A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.”

Most startups swear by the phrase ‘Disruptive Innovation’. What happens once a startup is funded or gets a ton of traction?

The innovation is displaced by the need to take care of the existing customer base, listen to them and if you are really unlucky – cater to investor demands.

We talked to a few CTOs to help us figure out the challenges related to sustaining innovation and rekindling it. Charlotte Genevier, CTO of The Cotery, tells us about the rapid prototyping phase at the beginning, when her previous company, SocialEngine first took off.


“Building, testing, and re-building a system is intensely gratifying, but once your startup reaches a certain point, you have to shift your focus to supporting existing customers, maintaining legacy code, and analyzing whether another codebase re-write will really provide the best value to the company. With SocialEngine, once we hit profitability, we really couldn’t maintain the same level of innovation and experimentation that we started with.”

So how do you drive more innovation in business, in order to keep improving efficiency and positive creativity? We’ve rounded up six ideas that will help you bring back the spark of innovation.

1. Let go of what can’t be done

Let go of what cannot happen and focus on what can. The biggest hindrance to the innovation process is the inability to let go of the success of the existing system. Another worry is that innovation will get in the way of revenue generation.

And money is one of the most uncomfortable things to worry about.

But the truth is: if you hold on to what is working for you, it makes it quite difficult for you to accept anything new.

2. Understand the need for innovation

There are other companies being built just like yours with some niceties that you do not have right now (And no, resorting to corporate espionage will not help). You have customers, but they are not tied enough to stick with you. They can and will switch.

The problem you solved is now not a problem for your customer. Now there are other problems in that context. This is why you need to be on top of your innovation game.

3. Parallel Streams of Work

What you do need to do is separate your innovation work from the mainstream business. There is a time for work and a time for play. And the mainstream team does not have the time for both.

There’s too much work, too many tight deadlines and immense responsibilities involved in making a business work.

For innovation, you need that time to play: the time to think without a deadline controlling your thoughts. And that is why you need an innovation team. If someone is not made accountable for the innovation process, it might just fall through the cracks and never happen at all.

4. Go live!

An organization that is experimentation-focused always looks to go live with their innovation attempts. This ensures that design, deployment and testing happens quickly, inputs are received and necessary steps can be taken towards formalizing a change.

5. Switch people around

Communication between the mainstream team and the innovation team is paramount, and can often seem un-achievable. Shuffling a few people between the two teams will aid this endeavor.

6. Get smarter with feedback

You need to have a working method to find out what issue you need to solve next. A good feedback system will allow you to have a better understanding about what your customers want.

Subbu Balakrishnan, CTO of, talks about a question that we need to ask ourselves everyday if we want to participate in innovation: What is the voice of the customer saying today?

Any kind of innovation, has to be based around what the customers, or the people who will be using your product, want.

He mentions something very interesting, in that “the burden of identifying the problem is on your customers and the responsibility of finding a solution lies with you”. Often, by studying the customers, you can figure out a great deal about which direction you need to go.

By this, I do not mean blindly listening to the suggestions of a customer, rather to focus on what you think the customer needs. In a great majority of cases, the customer does not know he wants something until it is there.

This is when you know innovation is successful; when you have managed to fill a void that was never realized by the customer at all.