Disruption is not about the technology. It's about the mindset.
As Tesla eases over the 400,000 pre-orders mark and Uber holds city councils all over North America hostage, threatening to pull out if they're hit with heavy regulation, the talk about disruption and the fear of being disrupted grows.
Who will be the next disruptor? What company will come along to disrupt other traditional businesses? Fintechs clearly have the big banks in their sights. Will a new wearable come along and disrupt Apple?
What do you do if you're in an established industry? Do you copy the banks and start investing in tech companies hoping to own new innovation and defend against disruption by buying it?
I would argue no.
Successful disruption comes from the experience, not the technology.
Let's looks at the current darlings, Uber and Tesla, to understand this.
Uber was not the first to offer a taxi service from an app. The real disruption comes from the experience. It's just better in every way, nicer cars, easy to order, pay linked to your card, and with UberX, less expensive as well. Before Uber the experience of getting a taxi was not good at all. Now, I know people that don't bother driving because it's so convenient and nice to Uber.
Tesla was not by any means the first to launch electric cars. They were the first to make sleek, sophisticated, sexy, fast pieces of technology that happen to have four tires and a steering wheel. Before Tesla, the experience of an Eco-friendly car left a lot to be desired. Ugly, slow, boring, impractical, were the words out often associated with electric cars.
With both Tesla and Uber, the real disruption is the experience. The technology is the enabler.
How to disrupt yourself:
1. Love thy customer.
I think true disruption comes from a passionate understanding and love of people. Data is a good starting point to develop understanding, but true caring is even more important. You have to have love your customers enough to get not only what they want now, but what they will want. Too many industries get so caught up in their own processes and needs that they forget about their customers.
Uber would have never happened if the taxi industry was paying putting it's customers first. It wasn't exactly a secret that the customer experience was crap. The technology existed to arrange everything from a smartphone. In fact, two years before Uber launched in Toronto my agency pitched the concept to a cab company as a way to increase dispatch oriented rides. They insisted on making fridge magnets instead.
Similarly, Tesla would have remained a niche player at best if the auto industry had been paying attention. Electric cars already existed and it's not like Toyota or GM couldn't afford battery R&D. They refused to see that the problem with electric cars wasn't that people didn't want them. It was that the ones they were making sucked. Chevy's response to Tesla is the Bolt...they gotta be kidding.
And frankly, if the cable companies weren't spending their days figuring out how to gouge people for more money for "bundles" they don't want, and instead focused on how to give their customers more value and better choice for the digital era, Netflix wouldn't be the powerhouse it is today.
2. Put down the data and analytics, get out of your office and experience your service and products with people.
Experience for yourself both the points of joy and the points of pain people have with their interactions with your brand. Once you understand this on an emotional level, you can empathize with your customers. This empathy will give you inspiration to find innovative ways to remove their pain, amplify their pleasure and the knowledge to be able personalize their experience.
Here's example. A bank here in Canada is currently running a campaign telling people that if you come in and see an advisor, they can help you save $1,500 a year, which you can then use to take your dad on a road trip or buy your wife new work clothes.
But why should I have to call in (you can never text or email), make an appointment, go there, find parking, wait for them? That's a pain. Why not use the ample data they have and do it automatically? Why not send me a text or a notification on my banking app telling me this and asking me to simply hit a button to accept. You know, save me the $1,500 on my terms, not theirs. How much would I like them then? Chances are a whole bunch.
Their "bank first" and not "customer first" approach makes me think they don't really want to save me $1,500 a year. They just want to look like they do. Which itself is old-fashioned thinking.
If they put down the reports and actually spent time with people, they'd realize that most people would appreciate a click on their phone a lot more than taking a couple hours of their day to go into a branch just to save money they shouldn't be spending in the first place!
3. Bring in outsiders.
Disruptive startups come about as an idea of a founder, someone with vision. Rarely are they built by committees, brainstorm sessions, collaborative management. This is tough for big corporations with their inclusive management style and team everything,
Also, disruptive ideas tend to come from people outside the industry. People who have been locked into an industry for a long time, even when they are outstanding, tend to see things through the "industry's perspective". Uber wasn't started by people from the taxi industry. Tesla was founded by the guy who created PayPal. AirBNB was founded by a designer.
Bring a small group of outsiders to give you a fresh perspective. A designer, musician, biophysicist, a tech person, a creative. These people will bring in a fresh perspective and aren't held back by industry best practices. Let them run with scissors developing new and innovative ideas. Take the best ideas and develop pilot programs with your internal teams, charging them to find even more innovation in the implementation.
4. C-Suite direct involvement.
I've presented enough concepts to enough corporations to know that whenever there isn't direct C-Suite involvement, a lot of great ideas die.
Because when you present something truly breakthrough and new, it makes people nervous and theory immediately start second guessing what their boss is going to think. More often than not, the great ideas die, in favour of less challenging ones.
Starting with C-Suite involvement gives disruptive ideas a better chance.
5. Realize that if you don't disrupt yourself, chances are someone else will.
Innovation and disruptive thinking are no longer a nice to have. They are so ple survival. Any company, no matter how successful it is, no matter what it's market position, can be disrupted now by a new entrant that scales up globally so fast that by the time you see it coming, it may be too late.