This article is the fourth part of a series of fives articles on mistakes to avoid when managing a disruptive project, extracted from my new book “A Manager’s Guide to Disruptive Innovation”.
A well-managed company measures its performance, and measuring the progress of disruptive innovation projects is extremely important. In this area, two mistakes can be made. The first is to manage the disruptive project like a sustaining innovation project, whereas a disruptive project is fundamentally different. Handling a disruptive project in the same way kills the momentum. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a specific system of measurements to manage its development. One approach might be to monitor the acquisition of new stakeholders and to evaluate them according to the nature of the project (in the case of the Airbnb site, the critical stakeholders were those who first listed their apartments).
The second mistake is to abandon any attempt to control because “innovation can’t be managed.” When companies realize that their habitual measures of performance put innovation projects in a stranglehold, they may become tempted to create a control-free space for the innovation. So they create an innovative entity and allow it to experiment hoping that it will someday crank out some new products and services.
The limitations of this freedom to experiment without any imperative to produce revenue and profits are best exemplified by what happened to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Although the PARC was at the origin of some of the greatest inventions in the world for today’s computer, such as the mouse, graphical user interface, and Ethernet network, it never sold any of these products, leaving others such as Apple, Microsoft and IBM to reap the benefits of its groundbreaking work.
In conclusion, disruptive innovation is not something that cannot be evaluated or measured; simply, it is something that is assessed and measured differently from sustaining innovation and a fortiori from the current activity. Because each disruptive project is unique, the best measurements of advancement are those that are created specifically for the project itself. So it should be the responsibility of the project leaders to propose a specific, and relevant, set of measurement criteria and review them regularly.