Your children - The Ultimate Disruptive Innovators

Published: Mar 2014

Author: Matthew Griffin, 311 Institute Ltd • Reading Time 10 Minutes

"Children are the ultimate disruptive innovators - fearless and able to clash together wierd and strange concepts to create something radically different but unfortunatley as we age we lose our creative edge. In this article we show you how to reignite it and unleash the disruptive innovator in you."

The 311 Institute is a global Innovation and Business Management consulting firm and our mission is to help our clients discover and maximise the potential of new mass markets.

We are a world renowned Innovation and Management Strategy consulting group with Academic and Enterprise Affiliates in the US, Europe and APJ. Our Associates and Alliance Partners help Fortune 500, Government, Entrepreneurs and Non Profit enterprises create new uncontested markets and realise higher value by building Accelerator Communities and Innovation Centers of Excellence, predicting and leading industry trends and innovating new and alternative routes to market.

Your child is an Innovation Genius but unfortunately for you you're not and as I sit here with my two year old son running around in his nappy I do know how strange it sounds to say that but bear with me and I'll help you regain your inner child and your innovation genius...

Unfortunately for those organisations in the business of designing and selling products and services trying to discover the next blockbuster product isn't as easy as just asking the public - Steve Jobs of Apple knew this all too well and often spoke about his frustration with companies who thought they could innovate the next big ticket item by running user groups and consumer surveys. All being said though you can't blame the public because very few of us were raised to be creatives and therein lies one of the innovators greatest unspoken problems.

Many of the world's largest organisations, such as AT&T, Apple, Dell, GE, Southwest Airlines and Walmart owe their existence to one of two types of innovation - Convergent Innovation or Disruptive Innovation and none of them would exist today if their original founders hadn't been able to focus the creativity of their inner child to create something new and radical.

AT&T was founded when Alexander Graham Bell created the first telephone - a disruptive new way to communicate long distance, in 1874. Apple created the world's first user friendly computer interface in 1977, putting Microsoft DOS to shame. Dell created a disruptive direct sales business model in 1984. GE was founded when Thomas Edison created the first electric light bulb, a disruptive new way to light up a room, in 1889. Southwest Airlines created a disruptive business model that merged the best of the car with the best of other airlines in 1971 and Walmart created a disruptive discount retailing strategy in the 1950's. Combined these companies now turn over $1 Trillion a year - not bad for six companies founded on six ideas.

Innovation comes in many forms and can be applied to anything in any situation but most members of the public only think of it in product terms and unfortunately as we all get older the creative abandon that we enjoyed as children slowly fades and gets replaced by logic and no great disruptive innovation was ever created using just logic.

Creativity is the cornerstone of the innovation process and you and your organisation ignore it at your peril so are children really the innovation geniuses we think they are and can they teach us how to become better disruptive innovators? Well, yes. As we've shown many of the worlds greatest company's started with a creative idea that sparked a new, valuable disruptive innovation so let's help you tap into your creativity.

Time to play an Innovation Game

Now we're going to get you to play a simple game with your children and show you how to unleash your inner genius. This works best if your children are between the ages of five and ten because they are often the most creative and untainted by logic - don't worry no one is watching so your ego won't be bruised when you lose. Get some crayons and two sheets of paper - one sheet for you and one sheet for your son or daughter now your challenge: Invent a new disruptive way to boil water. You have five minutes.

If you're like most adults the first thing you thought of was a kettle but this is a disruptive innovation game and you've been tasked with creating something new so some of you might now be thinking about putting the water in a pan on a camp fire, or perhaps using the flame from an arc welder or a barbeque. If this is you then sorry you've just lost the game because while you're thinking of ways you can use different types of appliances and tools to boil your water your son or daughter has probably just drawn a fire breathing dragon trying to boil a lake and while you couldn't commercialize this they did something that as an adult you now find very difficult, if not almost impossible...

You lost, now learn

So why did you lose? You lost because you're an adult. As adults we have been conditioned to be sensible and logical and to work within the boundaries of our known reality, by contrast your children have no fear of clashing two weird concepts together to create something radically different and this, shall we call it lack of fear, is the key to creating the next disruptive innovation.

Disruptive innovators are not bound by rules or stereotypes - anything goes and moving back to our boiling water game as an adult, armed with so much more knowledge than your child you could have come up with lots of new ways to boil water - everything from using pressure, gravity or lasers all the way through to using magnetic fields or nanoparticles but you probably stuck with flames and electricity. Suffice to say had you been working for a company - for example Philips, the Dutch consumer electronics giant who wanted you to disrupt the kettle industry, worth over $400 million a year in the US alone it's likely that you'd have just enhanced the existing design, your product would have tanked and you'd have been fired. The doors over there by the way... see you later.


Children don't know it but their unbounded sense of creativity is invaluable and as a parent you should nurture it. If you could bottle their fearless creative zeal and combine it with your own business acumen you'd find that the opportunity to create truly great, disruptive innovations isn't as far away as you think.

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