Disruptive innovation

Will Nicholls

Agencies assist client innovation through small, incremental improvements, mainly in communications. The time has come to move from 'sustaining' to 'disruptive' innovation.

Creative agencies have always been good at innovation. However, the need for predictable growth has meant that creative agencies have been sucked into focusing almost exclusively on the type of innovation that our clients think they need – that is, small, incremental improvements to what we did yesterday; a slightly more original TV ad, a responsive website design, and so on. We have become experts at Clayton Christensen's 'sustaining' innovation.

This focus has meant that we have neglected becoming expert at 'disruptive' innovation. We haven't applied a disruptive innovation approach to our client's business, or to our own industry or business model. And that is dangerous in an era of rapid change. Clients' business models, value and supply chains, routes to market and core propositions are being disrupted by digital technology. And the agency world is also facing challenges, the client/agency relationship is undergoing disintermediation; creative agencies are simultaneously converging on the same space and the hour we sell is becoming commoditised.