Authors: Alex Ryan and Michael Dila
Organizations, industrial sectors, and societies actively resist change. If they did not, they would not last long in a turbulent world. The defenses institutions build to buffer structures and practices they value from external perturbation also inhibit innovation and adaptation by reducing variation, filtering weak signals, and enforcing conformity. An institution that creates value at one time and in one context can develop pathologies when the context shifts. In the extreme case, an institution may become driven by a “killer business model”. The tobacco industry is the ultimate example of a killer business model, where growth becomes coupled with harming customers. This surprisingly pervasive phenomenon manifests in institutions at all scales, from marriages to civilizations. With it, both the opportunity and the need for disruption arise. In this article, we turn to the theory of insurgency to provide insights on how to disrupt and transform systems that have calcified around killer business models. We argue that tactically and strategically, disruptive innovation is a form of design that resembles the behaviors of political and military insurgency. This perspective provides fresh insights into how to transform large systems organized around entrenched interests. Systemic designers must engage with the language and methods of power to innovate not just in words and images, but also in deeds. Only then can we succeed in systemic transformations of our organizations and societies.