Challenges of Disruptive Innovation

The increase in competitive pressure emanating from globalization in combination with disruptive technologies means that innovation has become a vital principle of economic survival. Enterprises must continually re-invent themselves and are therefore placing a focus on dynamic and inter-company innovation processes. Which strategies, structures and processes are needed for firms to successfully adjust to new conditions and achieve sustained growth? What is the role of top-management in the leadership of disruptive change?  Can the obtained knowledge be generalized?

Speakers: CEO Klaus Fronius (Fronius Group, Austria),  Dr. Volker Kaese (Technical Project Manager XL1, Volkswagen AG, Germany), Marion Knoche (Director GfK, Germany), Michael E. Raynor (Director Deloitte Services LP), Ken Parulski (Chief Scientist, aKAP Innovation and Founder, and retired Kodak Chief Scientist and Chairman of ISO Technical Committee 42), Mary Tripsas (Professor, Carroll School of Management, US)


The Technology Symposium aimed at enriching current understanding of a problem managers are facing today more than ever: how to respond to innovations that replace established ones (and thus disrupt time-tested business models).

The inability of organizations to adapt to a rapidly changing environment when threatened with disruptive innovation has been an issue of continuous inquiry in both scholarly research and managerial practice. Particularly the failure of industry leaders to successfully adapt to disruption – even when they had an awareness of the need to change – seems to generate the keen interest in the topic.

In an effort to solve the problem, growing attention has been directed to the question of how powerful capital markets, an excessively narrow focus on profitable customers, and the cognitive framing of environmental change, moderate organizational inertia. In this symposium, a fascinating group of leading experts shared their knowledge and experience of the challenges organizations are facing in their struggle to cope with disruptive innovation.

The symposium was structured in three panels: an introductory panel illuminated the general linkage between disruptive innovation and strategic renewal, and the two subsequent panels addressed the issue from a practical perspective. We used digital imaging and energy supply as two excellent examples.

Michael E. Raynor, director of Deloitte Services LP in Boston, USA, established the groundwork by providing a practical way of thinking about (disruptive) innovations. In his keynote, he showed how organizations can go beyond the limits of what is currently possible and exploit uncertain futures.

In the following panel, we discussed the challenges organizations faced in the substantial transformation from analog (chemical)-based photography to digital imaging. The elaboration of practical cases motivated the development of practical recommendations for actions elsewhere. Using the example of Polaroid, Professor Mary Tripsas showed how an organization’s identity – internal and external perceptions of what the organization stands for – can constrain efforts to move into new domains. Ken Parulski, Founder of aKAP Innovation and retired Kodak Chief Scientist, directed attention to an organization’s stock of resources required to move new and potentially disruptive ideas into organizational initiatives. Factors that moderate the diffusion of innovations of all kinds once they are developed had been discussed by Marion Knoche, who recently retired from GfK as Global Director Photo.

The final panel highlighted the potential role of disruptive innovation in the field of energy supply. We looked at alternative solutions of how energy could be supplied in the future, as well as how mobility might change in the face of ongoing efforts to push technological limits. Klaus Fronius, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Fronius International, and Michael Schubert, Sales Development, Solar Electronics Fronius International, showed how new and intelligent energy management, coupled with a series of new technologies, can disrupt conventional and centralized systems for power supply, by producing the energy at the place where it is needed. Volker Kaese, technical project manager of Volkswagen’s XL1, the first super-efficient vehicle in automotive history, demonstrated the potential of sustaining innovation and game-changing accomplishments in technological improvements, to hold off competitors with disruptive innovations (at least temporarily). The XL1 provides a compelling example, combining the best of electric and combustion driving.