Disruptive Innovation - Some pointers

I've recently begun to get more involved in the area of disruptive social innovation, to a large extent because that's exactly what the Urban Survival Project is all about. Anyway, innovation being the buzzword of the moment, is now being used in so many contexts that it's going the way of most jargon; i.e. no one's entirely sure exactly what it's supposed to mean. "Disruptive Innovation" as a term only complicates the matter and makes even less sense. So here's a few notes to help demystify Disruptive Innovation, thanks to Rhea who got me talking about it the other night.

To start with, here's an excerpt from a post I'd written a short while ago around disruptive social innovation. "Disruptive innovation is about creating something that fundamentally shifts the way things are done. Using analogies from Systems Thinking, the whole world is a complex web of interactions that localise around tightly linked processes that are all loosely linked to other localised processes. Disrupting the norm in one small area then, can have a follow on effect to the way the whole world works."

The guy who's written the most around Disruptive Innovation is Clayton Christensen. Here's a snapshot of his model.

You can also preview some of his books on Google Books. I think the latest one is called Seeing What's Next

Other concepts worth looking at in relation to disruptive innovation are Design Thinking and some of the principles behind User Centred Design. I'll cover these a bit more in a future post.

Happy reading :)

What's wrong with Facebook?

Well, not just Facebook. Social networks in general. For most people, existing social networks have hit a wall. They were fun while they were novel, but novelty only lasts so long. Once you've got your friends and you've done the pirates vs ninjas thing so many times, the only spaces that survive are the ones that let you continue to build your networks or do something useful like share your photos.

In terms of the use curve then… we’re on the down-slope. After the first few months of overuse and excitement loading every ridiculous app available, most of us now only use Social Networks for a quick buzz… like email used to be. To me Facebook is like the next Hotmail. Remember how it used to be so much fun sending and receiving social emails. How you used to sign in just in the hope there was a message? The problem is that email became useful and then email became work.

And I think we're seeing the same thing with Facebook. Everyone is trying to shoehorn use of out existing Social Networks, but the difference is that they are struggling because most of them explicitly weren’t designed to do that.

Existing networks however, have created norms, laid the foundations and paved the way for the next generation of networks… useful networks, hyperlocal networks, gated networks… and we’re seeing these already with sites like Celsias and UnltdWorld. However these are really designed to allow people to organise online to do stuff offline, and as such are still a way off being either true social networks or truly useful social networks.

Personally I think that the harder that a true social graph recreator like Facebook works to make itself useful, the less love it's going to get from it's core audience, because after past experience we've become more protective of our social environment and more suspicious of corporate attempts to appropriate it.

I guess what I'm leading to is that I think we're ready for a truly useful social network. One that explicitly sets out to be useful from the start, and functions as the useful extension of existing social networks rather than coming in as another new competitor. And yes, you guessed it... this is the underlying driver behind what the Urban Survival Project is trying to achieve, albeit with a core focus on people helping people.

Upcoming Volunteering Conventions

I've recently been invited to a couple of convention type things around volunteering, which look quite interesting so I thought I'd share them here in case any of you were interested. Unfortunately in both cases the locations and dates don't really work for me or I probably would've gone along.

  1. National Volunteering Convention: This is about social networks, speed dating, street teams, viral marketing, social entrepreneurship… and what these have to do with volunteering. It's being held on the 23-25 April 2008 in Newcastle by the Red Foundation. For more information or to book your place here's the link www.volunteering.org.uk/convention
  2. Idealist.org Global Volunteering Fair: Learn more about opportunities for international volunteering in Boston on Saturday, April 12th, which is err tomorrow! The workshops look interesting through. More info at www.idealist.org/globalvolunteering

The 60 second pitch - another VC favourite!

At the summit I came across what seems to be another venture capitalist mantra... the "60 second pitch"! VCs seem to love these pithy reductions. The first one I kept being told about was to narrow my ideas down to a single slice of functionality. Just one slice. If you can't do this apparently VCs get antsy. The second one is reduce everything down to a one minute overview. If your idea is more complex, forget about it.

All sounds to me like major ADD. I'm sure it's a function of too many people with rambling undefined theses with no real ideas hidden underneath it all, but sometimes to simplify to this degree can be to lose the idea altogether; or worse - pitch something conceptually different simply because you had to reduce the number of words.

In the case of the Urban Survival Project, I'm not talking about simple mind-catching, one-stop solutions. It's about laying foundations and building something big. Creating the pieces of a big jigsaw that fit together beautifully; that will be enduring and make the change I want to effect. I'm not really interested in compromising this for lowest cost, single-path, financially stable solutions that are successful through repeatability.

Anyway I guess those are the rules, so while I've already determined that the single slice thing is not realistic for USP, I'm currently working on creating some kind of 60 second pitch. Watch this space, because I'll be hoping for feedback :)


As I mentioned in my post on Reflections on the i-Genius World Summit, after I finished my pitch to the investors panel, Cliff Prior, the CEO of UnLtd came up and offered me an assessment for one of their grants. I thought this was hugely generous and was touched by the offer of support. I'm now off to India on Tuesday for a couple of weeks while on 'gardening leave' and am hoping to be able to help out with the fledgling UnLtd India while I'm out there.

So anyway, here's a quick heads up on UnLtd. Basically they provide funding and support for social startups. There different levels of grants starting with the Level 1. Check out their Level 1 Eligibility Questionnaire if you're working on anything around social change.

UnLtd have also created UnLtdWorld which is a social network for social entrepreneurs. It is a place where you can "Connect with other socially minded people, search and share resources and opportunities, find and list services and products, find answers to key questions, create and join groups and lots more". It'll be interesting to see if it takes off, but check it out anyway.


Creative Commons License

The Urban Survival Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.