The question I want to open with is as follows:
Is there a difference to the engagement approach between user innovation and disruptive innovation when building a platform to support both.
Disruptive versus Constructive
Disrupters have a view of completely changing existing approaches towards a new approach that most people wouldn’t have considered prior to the disruption (or wouldn’t have considered achievable). Consumer focused innovators however have a view of building products for users by constructing parts of the services or building those services on top of a platform.
In essence it is the Yin and Yang of innovation. Constructive innovation builds products for consumers, there is a shelf life of the product, the underlying technologies are in some way disrupted leading to new approaches and a cycle of constructive innovation.
The point is that there is a clear difference between these two sets of approaches (not to say you can’t be in both - it’s just that the thought process is distinct). As Caroline Howard points out in her Forbes article:
Disruptors are innovators, but not all innovators are disruptors.
In fact, Eric Von Hippel has discussed in detail the differences - and symbiotic relationship - between user driven innovation and producer driven innovation.
The question is, how can a producer help create a foundation for user driven innovation before that innovation has happened? In other words, is there a model that lives somewhere between the producer creating the innovation and the user creating the innovation - is there an approach to patterns of engagement and services that can provide a platform for many producer and user innovations?
The idea that you need to iterate on user features doesn’t necessarily work when you’re creating a platform for disruption. What you are looking for is patterns across ideas that experts at a higher level can recognize and categorize.
There are two common but diametrically opposed views to building products. The first is courtesy of Steve Jobs and that is that your users don’t know what they want until you give it to them. More recently there is a growing believe in the MVP model where you build something and then iterate over it until you fine tune it for something people will buy.
The problem is that these models are based on the assumption you have an actual product for users rather than a platform for innovation to trial many kinds of products.
On one hand, the Steve Jobs approach generally doesn’t work as you need to know the kinds of problems people are having in order to build something for them.
Furthermore, the MVP model doesn’t work in building a platform for disruptive innovation as the premise of the MVP approach is in looking at specific products that solve problems for users.
You don’t have an MVP product to take to users as that is not the purpose of a platform - the platform is intended to act as a playground for building those products. Using the MVP principles with those that need to be innovating (product developers, hackers, startups and so on) is a good idea - but it is these groups themselves that would need to be taking their MVP products to end users.
Here are some examples that show the difference:
- People can sign up to receive offers on their mobile phone
- Users can store their images remotely
- Citizens can connect and discuss issues in their local area
- Cheap, scalable service to allow sending of mass notifications to mobiles
- Cheap, scalable storage services
- Flexible, customizable social framework
In one view you’re solving specific problems for users - often things they can see and touch - or at least view in a specific context. In the other view, you’re providing services that can be used to build user facing products.
In essence, in the platform case your customers are people developing products - the distinction is that you are looking to solve patterns of problems rather than specific problems. For example, you want to create storage services that can be utilized by a host of consumer facing products (e.g. binary media, documents, encryption, privacy etc), rather than specific products (e.g. consumer image social network, secure document vault for lawyers etc).
The following diagram summarizes the above discussion.
Notice that at each level there is an engagement process where at the higher level engagement is at a higher order and with people who have a horizontal view of problems, services, solutions and how behaviors at a global level can be changed (e.g. we must engage more with our citizens, people want offers in real time).
As you move down the layers, you move into vertical areas of learning and behavioral change where local domain experts and users can feedback into actual problems they are seeing and can create many solutions to address these issues. It can be challenging for people used to delivering focused solutions to consumer problems to see the higher levels of patterns needed for larger scale behavior change (i.e. making it easier for a broad set of users with a slightly less elegant solution than fits specific users - the right side of of the 80/20 rule decreases the higher up the layers you go, until you have an inclusive set of patterns).
In all layers notice there is a constant feedback layer of innovation - also notice that the arrows between the layers go both ways - there should be constant education between parties to improve the services and add new services - this is the MVP approach. As the layers at the lower levels utilize more of the platform services and hence can create even more innovation (due to reduced time to get their base product up and running), they can feed back up to the producers who can create new horizontal services that in turn can be shared across the community.
Furthermore, you can involve everyone in the innovation process at different layers as is shown below.
Notice in the diagram above you move from people with horizontal knowledge (at the top) to people with domain and niche knowledge - the engagement moves in both directions and innovations that move up the layers can be spread across everyone who uses the platform.
The further down the layers you go, the closer to get to clear definitions of consumer focused products - solutions to address various types of consumer problems. As you move up the layers,you find further and further abstractions from the detailed problem and more of a focus on a horizontal solution that fits many requirements (the pattern approach).
Steps to Disruptive Platform Innovation
The following steps will be iterated over, but it’s a start in understanding the steps that could be taken to create an innovation platform for disruption.
- Disruptive Business ideas - grand visions or ideas through discussion between experts and industry. Add in consumer focus groups noticing patterns. At this level you are not doing stuff, but rather noticing patterns across the consumer base.
- Enabled by disruptive technical platform capabilities to address patterns at scale. People with horizontal technical knowledge are key.
- High level business goals - knit together components to do new things. New technical patterns enable new ideas - or make original ideas attainable.
- Enabled by more specific technical platform capabilities. The patterns become implemented as composed use of the platform services.
- Detailed business goals - customer vision from in the field experience (algorithms, apps etc)
- Supported by user feedback. Gather requirements etc. This is where you scale engagement.
- Enabled by specific technical solutions
- Iterate and build many technical solutions. Start small. Improve the higher level patterns by bottom up feedback.