Steve Blank, a entreprenuership professor at Stanford University and U.C. Berkley, wrote an extremely informative overview of the life cycle of innovation in business for Business Insider last week and the article immediately reminded me of a film I saw not long ago called “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” Professor Blank acknowledged Professor Clayton Christensen‘s observation that there are basically two types of innovation strategies organizations can adopt; disruptive innovation and sustaining innovation. The sustaining strategy involves a large organization that was once a startup cultivating a cycle of innovation in a well-established market. The disruptive strategy, which reminded me of the movie, involves a large organization launching a new division and giving it free reign to find a new niche or new market.
Disruptive innovation replicates a startup company and is used to address two uncertainties, product feature sets and the consumer/market. The Men Who Stare at Goats, starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey, provides an excellent (and humorous) example of this kind of innovation at work. In the film Lyn Cassady (Clooney), an retired Special Forces officer crosses paths in Kuwait with Bob Wilton (McGregor) a runaway reporter from Michigan on a journey to find a great story. The two become friends and Cassady reveals that he was a part of secret division of the army known as the Jedi Warriors, a training unit designed to develop psychic spies. Through a series of twists and turns, Cassady is eventually reunited with some of his former unit and Wilton gets an unbelievable story.
I think the movie provides a great example of disruptive innovation. The U.S. Military represents that large organization that launches an entirely (and in this case secret) division called the Jedi Warriors. The division is assigned the task to develop a new product (psychic spies) to penetrate a new market (paranormal warfare). Sometimes this type of innovation creates a viable product and other times a new division is shut down because it’s results are intangible. Needless to say some organizations have found it to be very successful. As for those that weren’t, perhaps they could be the basis for a new summer comedy at some point in the future.