What do Uber, Facebook and Netflix have in common? They have all disrupted the market in recent years at a time where we are experiencing change at a greater pace than ever. This could just be prolific innovation but I would argue that there is a greater force at hand: disruptive thinking – thinking the unthinkable1. So who are the leaders behind the disruption and how are they able to make such an impact?
Take Travis Kalanick of Uber, who had a simple idea to reduce the cost of taxi hire in San Francisco. He has been described as "an excellent storyteller but in a good sense. He can illustrate a lot of different things. He’s also driven and opportunistic, which can be good or bad."2 Is this what it takes?
What about Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, who continually looks to disrupt how we communicate with each other e.g. branching out through WhatsApp and virtual reality entity Oculus. He has strong passion and belief in his products. Does that lead to disruption?
And completing the trio, Reed Hastings with Netflix leading on video streaming and setting off an arms race for exclusive original content development. Hastings realised the need to step sideways from DVD’s into what was emerging as a new way of viewing media and technology advances.
All of these people find comfort in being uncomfortable; to change the status quo in unique and innovative ways. Disruptive innovation in business tends to start out as a low-cost alternative to existing products or services but with truly disruptive thinking, great things can happen. So let’s explore how these few people have made such great disruption happen and how you can do the same.
- Have the courage and desire to challenge existing practice and thinking. Lisa Bodell, CEO of Groupthink3 characterises this rebellious instinct by using a line of open questioning that awakens the mind, rather than puts it to sleep, specific without limiting imagination. By asking the questions no one else is asking, greater and faster learning can occur.
- Raise your own standards and expectations by challenging yourself to be more productive and think smarter.4 Disrupt your own thinking before someone else inevitably does.5
- Be your own biggest critic. Reduce doubt caused by others balancing self-reliance and positive thinking.
- Be bold and give yourself the opportunity to win big. Deliberately target situations where customers are overlooked or underserved and competition is low.
- Use your disruptive power to make innovation happen.6 Focus on what you do exceptionally well that most others can’t and embrace failure by applying the lessons learnt to succeed in the end.
- Let your strategy emerge, people who disrupt often zigzag but don’t do it randomly. Take a step forward or sideways, gather feedback and adapt accordingly. Figure out how to benefit from, or take advantage of, continuous disarray, disorder and disruption by creating new markets and opportunities.
- As well as disrupt yourself, actively sponsor and mentor those who will upset everyone’s apple cart to ensure disruption happens. Make it safe for disruption to emerge; for people to speak the unspeakable.
Richard Branson captures the essence of disruptive thinking when he says:
“One has to passionately believe it is possible to change the industry, to turn it on its head, to make sure that it will never be the same again.”7
If you really want to move the world forward, you need to innovate on the inside, disrupt your own thinking in order to disrupt others.
2 http://uk.businessinsider.com/uber-travis-kalanick-bio-2014-1 - All Hail The Uber Man! How Sharp-Elbowed Salesman Travis Kalanick Became Silicon Valley's Newest Star. Alison Shontell January 11, 2014
3 The Forbes Global Game Changers List: Bezos, Zuckerberg And More Business Leaders Transforming The World; Steven Shaefer
4 5 Ways to Harness the Power of Disruptive Thinking. Shake things up by changing the way you think. Here’s how. Karima Mariama-Arthur January 21, 2016
5 Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic; Bill Jensen
6 Thriving in Ambiguity: Lessons from Exploratory Organizations. Organizational Development Case. Lauren Pollak, Katherine Wakid
7 Quote: Richard Branson, The Money Programme, BBC, July 1998