Executive Education

Instead of Disruption, Focus on Filling Gaps

If it feels like you hear a lot about business disruption, that’s because you probably do. Disruption is a hot topic, and the conversation doesn’t look like the chatter will die down anytime soon.


Sixty percent of CEOs say their industries have already been disrupted, according to a 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of almost 1,400 chief executives from around the globe. What’s even more telling is that 75 percent think their markets will be disrupted by 2022.


But what prompts companies to go the disruptive route? The presence of processes, solutions, customers, and businesses as jumping-off points for their innovative ideas. They think the key to an industry breakthrough is to simply build a better mousetrap.


But innovation isn’t just about providing the newest and shiniest offering. It’s about leaders finding gaps in the market to fill, which is difficult for leaders because it requires them to uncover those gaps, create solutions, and build customer bases. But the results can be even more significant than disruption. They can change the trajectories of industries — and the lives of customers — for the better.


Filling the Gaps in the Market


Disruption and gap-filling aim to accomplish the same thing. To see how each approach manifests itself, let’s look at two distinct industries: electronic medical records and the gig economy.


Companies want to integrate blockchain into electronic medical records, not realizing that all they’d do is optimize the software stack and dilute it to look just like Uber. The addition of blockchain doesn’t fix a problem or fill the gap in an already fragmented system. Our company worked toward filling a system gap by setting up a client of ours with a patient-facing electronic medical record.


Meanwhile, businesses in legacy industries are trying to leverage gig workers — ironic because Uber itself is beginning to see that convenience alone doesn’t solve an industry’s core issues. To repair some of those problems, our company is working with a startup to build an application that identifies and manages dentistry temp workers. By focusing on quality, verification, and certification, we can identify the best candidates and help satisfy an industry need.


Disruptions garner headlines, but leaders who aim to fill industry gaps set their companies up as long-term solutions for customers. Leaders who employ the following strategies allow their companies to do just that:


1. Listen to customers and employees. A company’s two most valuable information resources are its customers and its employees; unfortunately, too many companies fail to heed the advice of either set of stakeholders. The former knows your business processes inside and out, while the latter has experienced all the touchpoints you’ve created along the customer journey.


If you encourage honesty from both groups, the feedback you receive can be very enlightening. Despite that 91 percent of managers think small ideas can have big impacts, but employers ignore more than half of the ideas each employee suggests each year. Listen to that feedback and incorporate it in ways that are organic to your company and beneficial to your customer base.


2. View the world through a different lens. There are so many market gaps around age, socio-economic background, culture, and ethnicity that it’s no wonder so many startups don’t understand their potential users. At my company, we aim to hire people with a different lens so we can witness how they see and solve problems differently.


This approach results in a significant improvement in innovation, according to researchers from NC State University’s Poole College of Management. Leaders can get a better idea of what different target markets want by getting into the mindsets of those audiences. Conduct market research, survey like-minded employees, and use other means to get a better look through the lens that underserved markets use.


3. Tap into other domains. When you’re immersed in a specific problem day after day, it becomes difficult to view it from a different perspective. To shift your thinking, bring in ideas from another domain.


Consulting experts in similar fields will allow innovative ideas to take shape without preexisting constraints around what’s “known” about the problem and solutions. The less someone knows about your industry, the likelier he or she is to deliver a novel solution.


Shooting for disruption is a viable business strategy, but it doesn’t always result in the long-term innovation that businesses need. Instead, identifying gaps and figuring out how to fill them allows companies to make truly profound impacts on both the market and the world. It can be a more difficult path to travel, but for those who succeed, the rewards are well worth it.


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Sean Caputo
Sean Caputo is the co-founder and chief strategy officer at Augusta HiTech, a consulting firm that works with social-impact focused partners to improve their product development, software, and technological services. Sean Caputo is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.