Sabotaging disruptive innovation

This morning I realized how many of the problems involved with disruptive innovation can be explained by the effects of emotional baggage. I've been wondering why the model that Clayton Christensen and his team has not caught on like wildfire as I watch my Google Alerts subscriptions. The model seems comprehensive and reliable to me. It's based on objective research, not intuitive speculation. Their innovation model provides a valuable escape from the predictable failure of incumbent enterprises poised to be obsolesced by new substitution curves. The disruption framework includes the dynamics of incumbents who cannot disrupt their business model, change their value proposition or cannibalize their current revenue streams. What the lens of emotional baggage offers is WHY the incumbents cannot improve their chances of survival. Here's some facets of that explanation:
  • Our emotional baggage runs a safety program that steers clear of danger. Entering the disruptive space appears unquestionably dangerous to incumbents. Emotional baggage would predictably distort perceptions, evaluations and decisions related to innovation.
  • Our baggage seeks safety in numbers as if its run by a herding instinct. It can stick together, stick to it's own kind and stick to the plan that's already working. It cannot get unstuck from collusion about legacy practices or consensus to current successes to deploy tools of separation and disruption.
  • Baggage corrupts our ability to really relate to colleagues and reach out to related disciplines. Our baggage gives us the inclinations to form silos, wage turf battles and escalate office politics. These urges sabotage the kinds of cooperation and collaboration that facilitate internal processes of innovation.
  • Baggage frames the present situation through historical precedents. It moves down the highway by watching the rear view mirror. It cannot foresee the value of serving nonconsumers when it has not been done before. It appears there are too many risks, unknowns, pitfalls and booby traps to move in that direction.
  • Baggage immerses us in a story where we are the main character. We cannot begin to understand others when we are consumed with what happened to us, how awful it felt, and how it continues to effect us. When baggage is activated, there's no way to grasp the job the customer is getting done or the ways some customers are over/under served by the current value proposition.
  • Baggage encrypts our budding psychological resources for safekeeping from toxic influences. This has the effect of reversing what we can and cannot do. Under the influence of emotional baggage, we usually cannot be creative, strategic, or empathetic. We lack what it takes to succeed at launching new ventures, enterprises and business models.
  • Baggage jumps to conclusions about past mistakes and failed predictions. These snap judgments can make us adverse to risk, fixated on current success routines and reduced to creatures of habit.
  • We instinctively camouflage our baggage so as to not appear vulnerable to further attacks. These pretenses of competency, confidence and compatibility know no limit. They give us the urge to oversell what we offer and then under-deliver the product/service mix. Our baggage books seats for us on the hype cycle for a new technology that ends up in the chasm, dip or shakeout phase. It cannot support the slow adoption phase that requires many sustaining innovations and progress toward more delivering precise results.
This explanation suggests that the underlying reasons incumbents cannot disrupt themselves run very deep. Start-ups with less baggage on board can count on the incumbents passing up the opportunities for disruptive innovations in value propositions and business models. This use of emotional baggage as a lens also offers a possible explanation for the staggering failure rate of new products and enterprises.


  1. Having read Christensen's work, I fully appreciate placing your recent posts into the context of organizational failure to adapt.

  2. Thanks Mario. Your feedback is much appreciated!