Does the old really have to be destroyed before the new can emerge?
“Destruction” sounds pretty brute, but that’s exactly what Joseph Alois Schumpeter meant. As an economist, he was thinking in larger contexts and indeed about the destruction of entire markets. The examples are well known. Kodak, which lost business in the photographic film sector when digital photography became established, or the trade in music CDs after streaming services became established. Such changes force entire industries to completely redesign their business model, or become history.
Innovators or inventors generally do not aim to destroy markets — that is only sometimes a consequence of innovation. It is the result of questioning familiar thought patterns — not necessarily by destroying them, but by dissolving them. Do photos have to be exposed on paper? Does music have to be presented on music carriers? Do you have to own a car if you only use it once in a while? With the dissolution of what is believed to be self-evident or the questioning of certainties, many new creations take their beginning. However, it is not that simple.
Destruction of certainties is not always creative
Even people who are always open to new things and enjoy new experiences often don’t realize how much they are nevertheless determined by thought patterns and action routines. The crux is that the formation of such schemata or categories is essential for human orientation, thinking and acting — we cannot do without them.
Everyone has probably already experienced how great the irritation can be when it simply comes to deviations from the usual in various sanitary rooms in restaurants or hotels, for example when trying to get running water out of the sink or the shower. You’ve already pressed anywhere that could possibly be a button, waved your arms to trigger a hidden motion sensor … maybe you have to mumble a secret formula or recite a poem?
The modern armature design can certainly be credited with innovation. The only annoying thing is that innovative thinking is expected from users who don’t want to invent anything at all, but simply want running water. You can imagine how difficult everyday life would be if you woke up every morning and forgot how to get dressed, how a coffee machine works, how to recognize a chair. So such thought patterns make sense, and because they make sense, it is difficult to destroy them in order to invent something new.
Dissolving in order to create something new
If one looks into the clouds and sees a face there, then this is also based on category formation, which is partly already innate. Dot, dot, comma, dash — in the appropriate position of the dots and dashes — already lets us inevitably recognize a face. It really locks into perception and once locked in, we can’t see anything but that face. Clouds, however, are very obliging, because they dissolve by themselves. Creative destruction is virtually built into clouds.
If one has worked in a certain industry for a long time, it is not uncommon for the self-evident to be so firmly locked in — not to say rusty — that dissolution can only be achieved with a great deal of energy. Chaos research has also come to the conclusion that order arises (and snaps into place) all by itself, while creating disorder/chaos requires a lot of energy — unfortunately, this does not apply to cleaning up apartments, by the way.
If, for example, you want to motivate employees to develop innovations, you should therefore not save on spending energy to ensure creative destruction. Once the habitual thought patterns have been dissolved, new ideas arise as if by themselves — just as one can suddenly recognize a horse, a flower or something else in the cloud face as soon as it has dissolved.
Procedure for creative destruction in practice
The goal of creative destruction is to get participants in innovation processes in companies — e.g. in the form of workshops — out of their usual and quite helpful thought patterns. But you don’t make friends by irritating people and questioning their certainties, as in the case of armature design. That’s why it’s important to explain to your employees why you’re putting them through this irritation — in the end, they’re usually grateful for it because it enabled them to think outside the box, garnished with the feeling of happiness that comes with the “aha” moment of a good idea. It’s best to initiate the process as a playful experimentation like a kind of fantasy trip, with the word of honor that you’ll come back down to earth later.
In the following, 5 possible techniques for creative destruction, which we have tested in practice, are introduced.
Science fiction: A world of the future is developed together or in advance. However, this should be designed in such a way that it poses a challenge for the product area for which innovations are to be developed.
World without rules and boundaries: Instead of a future world, this can also be a world on another planet where, for example, gravity does not exist, money does not play a role, etc.
Prohibition of the closer product group: If the needs, motives and problems of the target group of the product have been determined beforehand, the task is set: Invent something to fulfill the need or solution if the closer product group, e.g. cars, is banned. If necessary, this can be broadened so that buses, motorcycles, etc. are also banned, even to the point of banning all mobility.
Transfer by analogy: Visionary ideas are developed for a completely different area, which can either be transferred to the area being searched for, or which is similar in terms of the needs, motives and problems of the target group, e.g. in the case of mobility: breeding an animal that is optimally mobile.
Apollo 13: “Houston, we have a problem”: The problem on Apollo 13 could only be solved with the resources available in the space capsule. There were no spare parts from outside. Here it must be considered beforehand, which fictitious situation is target-oriented. This could be that the problem can only be solved with the means that are in space, or also a Robinson island or similar.
The ideas from the creative destruction later serve as a basis for the development of more realistic ideas. The advantage is that the participants no longer have to move laboriously from the status quo to more visionary realms, but conversely already come from a visionary world. So you’ve already thought outside the box and can draw from that.
Nevertheless, one has to be on guard that the participants do not allow themselves to be drawn back too far to the status quo. In this case, interventions for creative destruction can also be carried out in the further process, which lead back more into the visionary world. Such an intervention can consist, for example, in forbidding something in the concrete concept development phase, or by setting seemingly impossible conditions, e.g..: “The vehicle must not have wheels/engine etc.”.
If the participants get too hung up on a less than visionary idea or get lost in details, the moderator can always declare “Tabula Rasa.” The group then has to start all over again.