Disruptive Forces

Dec. 21, 2004

The arch, the pulley, the compass, movable type, the steam engine, asphalt, the Model T, structural steel, the atomic bomb. All of these inventions had ramifications far greater than what their creators envisioned. In today's high-tech lingo, such an invention is called a killer application, or "killer app." These innovations represent "a new good or service that establishes an entirely new category and, by being first, dominates it . . . ," explain Larry Downes and Chunka Mui in Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance. Senior executives of large corporations do not perceive killer apps as beneficent creatures, say Downes and Mui, because invariably they displace unrelated older offerings, "destroying and recreating industries far from their immediate use, and throwing into disarray the complex relationships between business partners, competitors, customers, and regulators of markets." For executives facing such discontinuous change, the book explains the forces generating today's killer apps and recommends strategies for creating, fostering, and unleashing their own. Using examples from companies in a variety of industries, Downes and Mui outline 12 principles of killer-app design that include some familiar themes ("Treat each customer as a market segment of one") and some that appear heretical ("Destroy your value chain"). To unleash killer apps, executives must employ what the authors dub digital strategy to "learn to see them coming and be prepared to put together whatever laboratories, partnerships, and new business models are needed . . . [b]efore someone else does." You can't predict the future, but you can be ready for whatever it brings, say Michael Fradette and Steve Michaud in The Power of Corporate Kinetics: Create the Self-Adapting, Self-Renewing, Instant-Action Enterprise. Their model, the kinetic enterprise, is a dynamic business that instantly responds to new demands and seizes new opportunities. The strategy that Fradette and Michaud espouse includes five concurrent paths that companies can follow to become more adaptable and responsive. The first path directs followers to develop leaders who "lead from the front line while making decisions in real time." Other paths lead to more dynamic workforces, infrastructures, customer relationships, and response to changing markets. Fradette and Michaud cite companies that are approaching the kinetic model and have adopted one or more of its underlying principles. For example, a successful new product was born when a Kinko's copy-machine operator hit on the idea of creating customized calendars using the customer's own photographs. He explained his idea in a phone message to Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea, who rushed it to the company's management and store managers via the voice-mail network. Success in the effort to become a kinetic corporation "depends entirely on the ability of workers to maintain and exploit their connections with colleagues," the authors say. "Collaboration is not a feel-good goal but the essential engine of the enterprise. Workers are expected to engage in creative risk-taking, not because it is a liberating activity but because it is a key element of the kinetic design." Sometimes management theory needs the kind of ice-water bath provided by John Macdonald in Calling a Halt to Mindless Change: A Plea for Commonsense Management. Macdonald assesses the damage of "entrenched" fads such as management by objectives and performance-appraisal systems, as well as the impact of recent manias such as TQM and "business Oscars" such as the Baldrige Award. Some of these fads are worthy concepts, he admits, but are misapplied by quick-fix managers and consultants. Macdonald aims to muffle the clamor for revolutionary change and focus instead on companies that have succeeded through evolutionary change. "Business can learn . . . from the substantial number of great companies that have sailed serenely through all the storms of change," Macdonald says, citing such organizations as Procter & Gamble, 3M, Toyota, Hewlett-Packard, Canon, and Sony.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!