I have recently been listening to Clay Christensen (Harvard Business School) describe his idea of disruptive innovation. He calls it a theory and has some amazing examples from the steel and auto industry, tech examples and even education. The definition below comes from Christensen’s website which I highly recommend.
“Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors. Christensen has since applied this principle to business, health care and education, providing enormous insight into what companies and organizations need to do to move off the sidelines and into the top tier of their field.”
The video on the above link is only about 8 minutes but it is extremely intriguing and worth listening to. Are his ideas potentially important for social enterprises and Business as Mission? He looks at it this way. If we continue to rely on data (which looks to the past) for decision-making, we are not going to prepare for nor change the future. The way to look into the future (because there is no data) is to develop theories.
In the business world and in education, we need to learn “how” to think and rely less on “what” to think. So what does this mean for those of us in the Business as Mission sector?
Many times I reflect on this question, especially today as I watch the country of Yemen descend into further chaos, “what really will change the world toward positive transformation?” Is it a benevolent dictator? Is it evangelistic preaching? Is it capitalism? Is it the social gospel? Is it better models?
The question of course causes me to reflect on what IBEC and other entities in the social enterprise and BAM space are trying to do. Here are some of the mission statements from websites.
- Agora exists to enhance the spiritual, social and economic prosperity of communities in developing countries by equipping entrepreneurs to establish profitable businesses that benefit their communities, create jobs, and inspire local entrepreneurs to do the same.
- Our mission is to launch a new generation of missional entrepreneurs who build prevailing companies, while also meeting physical and spiritual needs around them. We infuse technology and world-class business wisdom into the ancient tradition of biblical discipleship – one accomplished, Godly leader apprenticing one willing and God-appointed learner.
- Third Path Initiative equips young professionals to have a kingdom impact through profitable business in the global marketplace.
- Professionals International is a network of economic development professionals who live long-term in challenging business environments. We work alongside entrepreneurs in these places to grow sustainable businesses that benefit the poor and marginalized, empowering them to make a living and improve their lives.
- IBEC’s purpose is the help build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.
All of this is disruptive! It disrupts the traditional mission industry. It disrupts the pure social enterprise sector. It is disruptive of traditional business. Disruptive innovation has been described as insanely creative, rule-breaking and leading to entrepreneurial change.
Could what we are doing, along with the disruption we are creating, change the world like mini mills disrupted the integrative steel industry? Like Toyota disrupted the Detroit car makers? Like personal computers challenged the mainframes and won? Like on-line education is disrupting traditional universities today? Like retail medical clinics are disrupting traditional doctor’s offices?
I well remember one of the examples Christensen provides. Like in the home of Christensen’s youth, the RCA radio had a prominent place in our home. But about 60 years ago the Sony transistor radio began to peck away at the bottom of the radio market. It was inferior and could not compete with the quality performance of my parents’ RCA, so it was initially ignored by my parents. However Sony began to re-define the standard of performance to be availability and portability. Now I could listen to Rock and Roll without my parent’s knowing it, and I could take it with me. Thus what started out to be an inferior product which captured a small segment of the market soon improved, and from the bottom up became industry standard.
Could that be the social enterprise industry today? Could that be Business as Mission? Could what we are trying to do by breaking all the rules, by challenging the silos and historical categories and by providing an integrated solution to the spiritual, social, economic, and political problems be described as disruptive innovation? Could we really by trying to demonstrate the kingdom of God “here and now” as Jesus said we could and should?
Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures