Written by Theano Advisors



March 18, 2020

Should disruptive innovation be the sole prerogative of start-ups or internet giants?

Should incumbents only settle for incremental innovations, sustaining their existing offers and business models? Couldn’t they imagine drastically new solutions, generate new uses, open new markets, design new value-creating business models?

With the Disruptive Engine approach, Theano Advisors helps incumbents seize disruption opportunities.


A handful of well-known examples tend to prove that disruptive innovation is also accessible to long-established companies, by regularly questioning the bases of their industries: Royal Bank of Scotland in the financial industry; Southwest Airlines in air transportation or Centrica, in the oil and gas supply industry, …

And yet, most incumbents – mid-size as well as large companies – struggle to successively and repeatedly produce and grow disruptive ideas. Below are some explanations for the difficulties they experience:


At Theano Advisors, we share the conviction that these obstacles can be overcome, and we have developed the “Disruptive Engine” approach to help incumbent companies sustainably develop their capabilities to produce disruptive innovations.

This approach relies on 5 sequences, which, however simple they may look, are not always a given:

  1. Change perspective. To do so, decontextualize, i.e. clarify the company’s material and intangible assets, which are potential innovation anchors, and clear them up from perceived constraints and limitations
  2. Document “disruption benchmarks” on value propositions, technologies or business modelsidentify, connect, hybrid analogies with other industries to allow the emergence of a new alchemy
  3. Get away from self-centered consensus through debate and contradiction. Embark “outsiders” (from other companies/industries/backgrounds on an ideation process, using non-conventional brainstorming methods: analogy, creative provocation, reverse brainstorming …
  4. Build a comprehensive story telling including also an assessment of the potential and limits of each identified option
  5. Then, and only then, submit initial findings to the examination of internal experts

All that being supported by a “braided organization” and a digital tooling allowing to welcome and manage contributions and to keep track of ideas for further investigations.

Practically, let’s take the example of a leader in aerospace and defense in search of disruptive ideas and value-creating business models, for which we applied the “Disruptive Engine” approach.

  1. First, a change of perspective, formulating the company’s tangible and intangible assets:
  2. Then documenting “disruptive benchmarks” in adjacent ecosystems, raising questions for our client. Here are three of them:
  3. Based on this input, sessions of ideation were held with “outsiders” to identify and qualify 14 projects related either to new engineering methods, new business models, or new products and services.
  4. Each of these projects were assessed in terms of strategic interest, value creation potential, technical feasibility, implementation pace, organizational constraints and financial risk.
  5. This provides material to be examined by internal experts, challenged, enriched and developed into the most promising projects. Here are some examples of these projects:
    • “Value Creating Packs”: the idea is to generate more value through the upgrades the company offers to some of its airplanes in service, through a generalization of « packs » and a different integration within the company’s commercial offer
    • “Mutualized inventory for Airlines”, to help airlines shrink their physically and fiscally cumbersome inventory without diminishing spare parts availability
    • « Aircraft Life Record »: offering permanent track-keeping of an aircraft’s life record, including the follow-up of each maintenance operation and parts replacement, improving airlines’ asset liquidity

And you, are you ready to use the alchemy generated through hybriding and “decontextualized internal assets” and “disruption benchmarks” to fuel disruptive innovations within your organization?

Are you ready to test “Disruptive Engine” by Theano Advisors?


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