Market Rebels and Radical Innovation

by Hayagreeva Rao, The McKinsey Quarterly, Number 2; 2009.

This McKinsey Quarterly article invites us to reconsider the concept of innovation in light of its mutinous roots. The author, Hayagreeva Rao is a Professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He has recently published a book on innovation entitled: Market Rebels: How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations. Rao’s aim is to encourage innovators to act more like insurgents and less like bureaucrats. True innovation, he argues, challenges existing interests, norms, social practices and relationships. For innovations to stick, dedicated groups are required who will mobilise society to bring a new idea into the mainstream.

Rao refers to the work of Professor Charles Tilly who studied social movements. Tilly identified four critical elements that a social movement must demonstrate: Worthiness, Unity, Numbers, and Commitment (W.U.N.C.). In others words, successful social movements require large numbers of committed members willing to take collective risks for the cause.

Similarly, Rao argues, these elements are essential if an innovation is to achieve social uptake. Each innovation he cites shows mobilisation of society through “motivated citizen groups.” The challenge for managers seeking social uptake of new ideas is to “start thinking like insurgents.” Rather than standing behind PowerPoint presentations, insurgents rely on two-way conversations. Rather than controlling resistance to an idea, insurgents draw in enthusiasts to help shape it. Insurgents also use symbols to communicate their point of view, rather than relying on lengthy reports. If you are looking to launch an innovative idea, this article is well worth a read.

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