Disrupt Yourself: Innovation Is Easier Than You Think
Every business doing well today is tomorrow’s potential victim of disruption. In fact, we often hear that market disruption is one of the things senior executives worry about most.
Don’t wait for someone else to shake up your world. Disrupt yourself. Being bold with your strategy can be difficult when times are good. It feels comfortable to just make hay with what you’re already doing successfully in the current environment. Rocking the boat may seem counterintuitive to others in your organization, and you may not find much immediate support. From board rooms to the front lines, people will challenge change when everything seems to be going well.
But here’s what they may not see: Your business model is eroding right now — especially if you’re successful and building a strong reputation. People notice success. Competitors start to think about how they can get a piece of the action, how they can do one better. Before long, the strengths that once set you apart become the baseline — the price of entry in your market. Successful businesses can never afford to stand still. So why not disrupt yourself?
Making a big shift can mean big gains. And it doesn’t need to mean big risk. As McKinsey & Company research suggests, bold moves are actually less risky than timid corporate strategies. You just need to know how to pursue them.
Understand where there’s opportunity
Understanding opportunity is a listening skill. If you’re a large employer, you have thousands of touchpoints to the marketplace that you may not be leveraging.
How do you turn this untapped asset into a learning apparatus? Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the market opportunity? It’s essential to focus on the marketplace. Look outside your organization to see what you have to offer. Listen to customers and prospects and look at market trends. Where are people spending money in new ways?
- What are the alternatives? How are customers solving this problem today? What are the competitive barriers to entry? Sometimes a spreadsheet will solve a problem more cheaply than a fancy new application built from scratch. Understand what you’re up against in the current marketplace.
- How will your offerings be superior? Too often, people rush past this question and go directly from opportunity to solution. If you had your solution or product on the market today, why would it be superior? Make sure you can articulate this from the customer’s perspective.
Consider the recent shake-up in transportation. More people than ever are traveling and commuting for work. More people have moved from rural America to be closer to cities. Roads are clogged with more vehicles. The market opportunity was to help people get around more easily and predictably in less time. Many alternatives existed — buses, trains, light rail, cabs and shuttles. And then came a company called Uber with a superior solution. Uber disrupted the market with a tech-enabled service that made getting around faster, easier and more certain. Uber quickly took market share and grew the market. It put a disruptive new business model in the driver’s seat.
Experiment like a scientist
Making a big bet can be scary and changing your entire corporate strategy to pursue an opportunity can be risky. Investing buckets of money on research, development and innovation is scary, too. With a small investment and a scientist’s mind, you can investigate opportunities quickly and look at more of them at the same time.
Begin by forming a hypothesis. Once you understand the market and find an opportunity, make an educated guess. Then test it in the market. Design a few experiments to find out if you’ve got something customers are interested in.
Experiment using the “Rule of Three”:
- Three people: Bring together three very different thinkers with different strengths and use the “opportunity, alternative, superior” approach to test your assumptions with actual customers.
- Three months: If your idea for a product or solution isn’t resonating in the market after three months, it may not be the right idea. Don’t be afraid to change course and make adjustments quickly.
- Three segments: Every opportunity can be broken into three segments. It might be an enterprise, small- to mid-sized business, startup solution or product. It might be high volume/low cost, mass customization, or custom solution or product. Consider which segments make sense to explore your opportunity and pursue your experiments.
Most businesses complicate the concept of innovation. It doesn’t have to be arduous or mysterious. When you understand the opportunity and experiment like a scientist, a small investment can lead to big gains.
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