If it ain’t broke, try disruption?

on 03 September, 2014

It looks like we may have just avoided another Icelandic volcanic eruption. Do you remember the massive disruption to air traffic a few years ago and the resulting chaos for air passengers? We often view disruption as a bad thing, but is it always?

Sir Richard Branson once claimed that being disruptive is actually good for business – and is certainly famous for taking a radically different approach when it comes to business, and, clearly, this has worked out rather well for him.

Whenever the Virgin brand is attached to a new market, customers flock to it. A great example of this is Virgin Atlantic, which launched in the mid-1980s as a direct challenge to British Airways (BA). Virgin Atlantic was young and fun – even offering massages on board and BA didn’t fare well in comparison, coming across as staid and utilitarian. The airline industry at that time was ripe for a bit of a shake-up.

What this shows us is that most industries at some point will become stale. Someone who identifies areas for improvement and then delivers them will be successful as a result. Then again, there’s that old saying that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ How true is this in business? If everyone thought that way, then there would be no innovation and the world would stagnate and eventually grind to a halt. However, there are classic examples of companies ‘improving’ products or services when customers were perfectly happy with them as they were.

Who could forget ‘New Coke’? It was a disaster, because customers were so emotionally attached to the original Coca-Cola, despite the fact that in taste tests the vast majority of consumers favoured the new version. The old formulation was brought back three months later. However, in the long run the whole episode ended up boosting sales of Coca-Cola and helped the company to claw back some market share from Pepsi, after years of Pepsi having the upper hand.

To my mind, the bottom line is that innovation is always a good move. Standing still in business doesn’t work. We should be continuously striving to improve the service that we offer to customers and shaking things up is part of that. Risk will always be a part of innovation, but can be controlled. Encourage your staff to think creatively about how to solve business issues and success should follow.

Darran Rickards is managing director of bcg.

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