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Executives, Here Are the Only 6 Things You Need to Know About Disruption to Be a Disruptor

November 11, 2017

The word disruption is so overused in business it threatens to become jargon which is never a positive fate for a term as important as this one. The people overusing the word and jargonizing it are usually using it wrong. If you understand what it means precisely, takes the following six points seriously to heart and do what you do best -- much more aggressively -- you can transform your organization into a disruptor.

The Actual Definition of Disruption

Disruption: something that changes the game entirely. In business, it's a product or service that has a staggering effect on events, activities, processes, and people in a marketplace. It's what happened to the world when regular people could buy cars, radios, televisions, VHS players, cell phones -- commodities that changed the way we live our lives, and that we had never had before. It's what happened when we could go online (on the IoT, another disruptor) and rent other people's homes for our vacation, or crowdfund, or hold meetings with our colleagues worldwide just as if we were all in the same room. A disruptor in business is a company of any size, new or well-established, that gives its customers and clients (whether existing or newly-acquired because of the offering) something that, once they have it, they can't imagine how they ever managed without it.

What Disruption is Not

Disruption is not invention. While it may take an invention to disrupt a market, it's the company that changes the market with the invention that's the disruptor. Disruption is not innovation (people who use the term incorrectly are very fond of using innovation as a synonym). Innovation is the process that results in invention and service engineering. The innovation is that thing with which the disruptor disrupts. It is not a success. While success in business always results from a company's disruption, the success lasts only so long as the market wants the thing and no other company disrupts that.

If You Are a Creator of New Markets (i.e. the original telephone)...

Becoming a disruptor will likely take some time, a sizable investment in innovation, development and talent resources, and deep conviction in the offering's disruptive potential. The primary challenges in this new-market scenario are to:

  • Envision the future that other's don't yet see,
  • Anticipate that your customers/clients will realize their need or want for what you offer,
  • Go to market as quickly as possible with a spot-on marketing strategy.

New companies often succeed at this because they developed their offering first, typically secretively, and they learned from the best -- the successful company or companies they disrupt. Existing companies with an edge over the start-ups benefit from having done it before, having the resources in place and being able to survive a disruption failure because of an existing line of products or services.

If You Are a Provider to Existing Markets (i.e. cell phones to the market of phone users)...

With an all-new twist on something the market already knows it wants, it's likely your disruption will happen quickly with less risk. You'll still need aggression and resources, but you won't need to build a customer base cold. As it exists, you should already be very savvy about speaking with it in a compelling way, and it should have trust in the quality and value of your offerings. Your biggest challenges in this scenario are to:

  • Keep the competitors you'll be disrupting in the dark about your offering while
  • Getting your people and supply chain on board, and
  • Having absolutely everything from your marketing message to your fulfillment process ready to blast off the minute you go to market.

Your Product Must Change

Be thinking about your next disruption before the current one hits the market. If you have a successful disruption, you will create the monster of a customer/client base that will want more from you. While that's a good problem to have, it means, more than ever, you need to not only know the voice of your customer but predict how that voice will change because you disrupted their market. Furthermore, when a company causes a disruption, all eyes go to its potential to do so again. This jacks up the competition, makes them watch you more closely -- essentially tags you as a threatening entity. Consequently, your game going forward -- remember, you have to change the offering to meet what your customer will need -- gets harder because those you disrupted want to disrupt before you do again. Focus on your customer, not your competition -- they'll tell you how to change your product and become a serial disruptor.

You're Going to Need Help

The very nature of disruption -- changing everything about the game -- means you'll need some seriously talented and fresh minds on board to make it happen. Disruptive ambitions change everything internally in order to change the external game. Infuse your teams with contractors or new-hires who have disrupted before and are change management wizards. Your existing people are already overworked, and struggling with the demand to innovate and execute... Breathe some new life into them by getting them the kind of help that inspires them to disrupt aggressively. Support them with extra talent to get the work done. There are needs to fulfill in the process of becoming a disruptor that those who have never participated in a disruption before need to learn from those who have. Fulfilling them is essential to the success of a disruption campaign.

And one last thing... Disruption isn't about offering something that's better than what is out there, or bigger/faster, or even cheaper. It's about offering something that people want and don't have. It's not necessarily a new gadget. It might just be the old gadget with a new button.

Download the 7 stages of becoming a disruptive business infographic here:

7 Stages of Becoming a Disruptor Infographic

Additional Reading

Change Management Developing TOP Facilitators, MetaOps' MetaExperts MagEzine

How incumbents become digital disruptors, McKinsey & Company



About Patricia Linn

Patricia Rae Linn is a Senior Business Development and Marketing Strategist with over 27 years in growth strategy development and implementation. As an agency owner and consultant, Pat has fulfilled Federal, State, County and Municipal government contracts, and hundreds of diversified industry client contracts in the private and not-for-profit sectors. She is known for her vision, innovation, ability to influence perception, and ease of managing complex projects fluidly.

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