Too many practices are copying what the corporates are doing rather than truly disruptively innovating, Alun Rees says.

In the 20 plus years since Clayton Christensen from the Harvard Business School introduced the theory of disruptive innovation, his theories have never had such a prominent, and misinterpreted year.

When pundits discuss Brexit and the US election, we are told that 2016 was the year of disruption as if this was bound to be a good thing

The implication is that change, any change, must be beneficial.

Disruptive innovation

Disruptive innovation was originally used to describe how small businesses with fewer resources could successfully challenge established businesses.

In UK dentistry it seems the reverse has been the case with larger companies, ‘the corporates’, challenging smaller, truly independent or NHS-dependent practices.

The smaller practices, according to Christensen’s theory, should be able to adapt to change, to target areas of the market that will be profitable and deal with threats.

What they are forgetting is the word ‘innovation’; this implies that the old kid on the block will have to change its ideas, philosophies and ways of doing business.

Time to change

Unfortunately what we see is too many practices actually adopting the superficial differences of the larger threats and trying to take them where the bigger concerns will always win.

Typical changes are longer hours, lower remuneration for associates and the hope of up-selling private add-ons that are ‘unavailable’ from your UDA allocation.

For many, the late adopters and laggards, it hasn’t worked and they are hoping for a new contract that almost certainly will not improve their lot or that the practice price bubble continues long enough for them to cash in.

For the others, those who are truly disruptively innovating, times are good.

They have examined and compared their businesses with their competitors, seen where they can be more successful, made changes and, especially, continued to alter course whenever necessary.