That was the opinion expressed Tuesday by innovation and growth expert Clayton Christensen as the keynote speaker at IDEAcademy, a free leadership development event presented by Eastman Chemical Co. and East Tennessee State University’s College of Business and Technology at Eastman’s Toy F. Reid Employee Center.
Christensen, the Kim B. Clark professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, noted so-called “disruptive innovations” transform products and help the masses get access to them.
One example he cited is the history of computers, from being owned only by large companies to smart phones being held in the hands of billions of people today.
Another example, Christensen pointed out, is the automobile.
“In the 1920s, cars were viewed as toys for the rich, then there’s a man named Henry Ford and he made the Model T,” Christensen explained. “He made the car so affordable and accessible that millions of people could own and use a car.”
Christensen’s philosophy is to get businesses to understand that the customer being the crux of innovation is wrong. Instead, he believes customers don’t buy products or services, but they “hire” them to do a job.
A second innovation, said Christensen, is sustaining innovation, which makes good products better but don’t create tremendous growth. A third type is efficiency innovation that allows businesses to do more with less.
“If we don’t become efficient, our competitors will kill us sooner rather than later, but (the businesses) typically eliminate jobs,” Christensen said of efficiency innovation.
The event’s theme was “Think. Again” and speakers challenged attendees to get better.
“You can be demanding without being demanding,” ETSU women’s basketball coach Brittney Ezell said. “You can ask someone to rise beyond your standard of expectation without criticizing every little thing. … If you give criticism, make sure it is specific. Don’t attack the individual, attack the problem. … No one wakes up thinking, ‘Man, I want to be terrible at my job today.’ ”