Superman, The Klu Klux Klan & Disruptive Innovation

Superman, klu Klux Klan& Disruptive Innovation

I recently stumbled upon a short film which chronicled how one single individual (Stetson Kennedy) went under cover and fought and plotted the demise of the Klu Klux Klan.

You can watch the entire video below. You can also read the book Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate.

How Superman Defeated the KKK by CrimeInc2

What was most interesting to me in the entire story was how he brought about the demise of the klan.
The Klan had influence over every known source – police, judiciary, political system and could not be brought down by the traditional methods.
He collaborated with one of the most popular radio show on air at that time – Superman. The show also wanted a new villain for Superman to fight in the stories as the war (WWII) had just ended.
When they were approached by the insider with the proposal to make the Klan the next villain and that he would share the inner workings & practices of the Klan that the creators can use in their stories, they agreed and created a 16 episode series where Superman brings down the KKK.
The power of the Klan was the secrecy and the rituals that were only known to the insiders. Once these were exposed publicly, the mysticism and the fear reduced. The association with one of the most popular radio show listened by 100’s of 1000’s of people with KKK as the villain changed the perception about the KKK from being the saviours of the day to the villains.
Almost all children listened to the show and then did what they always do.. Play act and portray KKK as the bad guys (in their own homes).
All of this ridicule started to have an impact and the number of members started dwindling.
So, what happened here and what does this have to do about Disruptive Innovation:

Turning Competitive Advantage to a Disadvantage:

The power of the Klan came from all the secrecy that surrounded them and their practice. Once the radio show took away the secrecy that surrounded the Klan, their power dwindled.
In a business parlance, the show turned the tables on the competitive advantage and make that work against the Klan.
When a startup or a competitor takes your core strength that has made you successful in the and turns it against an incumbent, it generally paralyses the incumbent and if the disruptor over fast, then by the time that the incumbent understands what is happening and react to the situation, the damage is already done and it is extremely difficult to regain ground for the incumbent.

Blind sighted Incumbents:

The Klan was ready for any frontal and traditional assault on them. What happened in the form of a Superman Radio show attacking them, was something that they were not prepared for. None of their leaders knew the world of radio and never in their dreams would they have expected an attack from a comic character on a radio show – they were blind sighted.

The same thing happens during disruption. The incumbents are generally ready for any traditional attack on their business and business model. In order for a disruptor to be able to have an impact,they need to find a way to blind sight the incumbent, be creative and find a way to turn the tables against the incumbent in a way that blindsight them.

The power of unusual partnerships:

In part a big reason why KKK was brought down was that the insider was able to partner with the creators of the Superman Radio show.
It was probably the most unusual partnership that you could think of when you want to bring down an extremely powerful Klan from the inside. I don’t know what made him think of the partnership and should credit the creators of the show for taking up the idea and running with it.
This was an  unusual partnership in all ways that you can see.
Disruptors should explore whom could they partner in order to be able to turn the tables on the incumbents competitive advantage. They should spread the net wide and far. Once they are able to find the right partners, their chances of disrupting the incumbent increases multifold.

Know thy enemy (competitor):

One of the most important reason why the Klan was brought down was because he was undercover and knew their strengths, practices and codes. Once he knew all of that, he was able to find ways to turn the tables on them.
If you are trying to disrupt someone, it is absolutely critical that you understand what makes the incumbent tick and what their strengths and weaknesses are. You don’t necessarily need to agree to them, you don’t necessarily need to respond to them, but you need to know them, as they provide the insight on what truly gives the incumbent the competitive advantage, that if turned on its head, can lead to the incumbent being disrupted.
These are my learnings from the entire episode.
What are your learnings?
Do share the same in the comments below.
PS: You can find all the 16 episodes of the Superman show below: