How to Apply Disruptive Thinking in Your Business

Disruptive thinking

Innovation and growth have always been central to a company’s ability to thrive – but could disruptive thinking give you a real edge over your competitors?

Technology is progressing at a rate faster than we have ever seen before. With that comes unparalleled scope to shake up the status quo. AI and machine learning, digital currencies, augmented reality, big data…all of these and more provide opportunities for disruptive companies to challenge even the most established and stable markets.

Perhaps that’s why, even back in 2018, 80% of execs believed their current business model was at risk of disruption in the near future.

Things have only accelerated since then. And, of course, there’s the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic to contend with.

COVID has accelerated digital trends out of necessity (by up to 10 years, according to some estimates) – and it’s also created an entire landscape where thinking outside of the box is the norm. Companies have had to think disruptively to survive, and now that they’ve started doing so their potential for innovation has skyrocketed.

The upshot of all of this?

It has never been more important to understand the power of disruption – and to encourage disruptive thinking across your organization.

“Easier said than done!” you might think – and you wouldn’t be wrong. Applying disruptive thinking in an organization new to the concept is no easy task. You’ll need to change long-established ways of doing things, challenge your customer base’s status quo and make more than a couple of wrong turns along the way.

For the benefits disruptive thinking offers, though, this is 100% worth it. Disruptive organizations identify new opportunities quicker, and are poised to act on them faster than the rest of the market.

In other words, disruption helps you shape the future, rather than constantly playing catch-up.

We’ve created this guide so that you can develop an in-depth understanding of the power of disruptive thinking for your business.

  • What disruptive thinking is, with a few real-world examples
  • The difference between disruption and innovation
  • How to apply and encourage disruptive thinking across your business

What is Disruptive Thinking?

‘Disruptive thinking’ is all about thinking differently.

Specifically, disruptive thinking is thinking that is so different from the status quo that it completely changes the way a company, market or industry behaves.

In other words, it revolutionizes the sphere in which it operates. Often, this forces more established companies to play catch up and rethink their entire way of operating – or risk going out of business.

Disruptive thinking isn’t confined to a particular department of a company, to a particular sector or to organizations of a certain size. Any employee in any company of any size can think disruptively, and contribute to a culture in which disruptive thinking is celebrated.

That final point is important. Disruptive thinking doesn’t have to be the preserve of a few individual geniuses with once-in-a-generation ideas. It can be a collective endeavour too. If you create a workplace that thrives on innovation and revels in challenging the status quo, disruptive thinking is collaborative.

What Does Disruptive Thinking Look Like?

To get a real idea of what disruptive thinking is, it’s best to take in a few examples of the changes it has made over the past few years.

Think about Spotify and the music industry. Few had thought of applying a subscription model to a digital product at that point. No-one had thought of applying it to the music industry. Spotify completely transformed how we consume music in this respect. Institutions that previously held sway like major labels and music retailers have been struggling to catch up ever since.

Booking a taxi has never been the same since Uber made it convenient to book and track one using your smartphone. Now, local taxi firms use white label products to try and emulate Uber’s groundbreaking UX.

AirBnB has changed how a whole generation approaches booking travel accommodation in terms of how they do it (via app), what price point they expect and also the experience they hope to achieve by doing so. You’ll notice that other booking sites now try to muscle in on this market, offering home stays and other experiences geared round authenticity alongside traditional hotel bookings.

What’s common to all of these examples is not necessarily that the technology was groundbreaking or particularly innovative. It’s that these disruptors applied technology in a way that had been ignored, missed or dismissed by the status quo – and redefined industries by doing so.

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Disruption vs Innovation: What’s The Difference?

Sometimes, ‘disruption’ or ‘disruptive thinking’ are used interchangeably with ‘innovation’. But whilst disruption and innovation are certainly related, they are not quite the same thing.

A product or idea that is innovative is an evolution from what came before. It’s not truly disruptive, however, unless it transforms the sphere in which it operates.

Continuing on from the examples above, CDs (and later paid-for digital downloads) were an innovative way of selling records to the wider public. However, they did not fundamentally alter the music industry in the same way Spotify has done. Instead, they were a continuation of the ‘pay per record’ model that had been in place since vinyl appeared on the mass market.

CDs were innovative. Spotify was disruptive.

Innovation doesn’t necessarily lead directly to disruption, either.

Now defunct camera film giant Kodak invented the digital camera. A mixture of concern for their existing business model and conviction that people were too attached to printed photos caused them to shelve the technology. They didn’t think it was marketable – and suffered as a result.

What can we take from this example?

Having innovative ideas is one thing. Having the structure in place to really see their potential is quite another – which leads us onto…

How To Apply and Encourage Disruptive Thinking Across Your Business

‘Just be more disruptive’ sounds like a tall order for many people. How do you start thinking disruptively? How do you encourage others to do so?

Whilst you can’t demand disruptive thinking from your employees on the spot, you can build a space which encourages people to think outside the box. This encourages disruptive thinking to happen organically.

Will every idea be innovative, market-shattering and profitable, all at the same time? Absolutely not. You’ll need to acclimatize to that – and this often requires somewhat of a shift in perspective, particularly from senior execs.

But by doing the following, you’ll unlock the potential for disruptive thinking across your organization. Broadly, it’s all about being genuinely and unflinchingly open to new ideas, and asking “what if” rather than “why not”.

Look beyond the status quo

The status quo is comforting and safe. This obscures our ability to think beyond it.

Putting too much stock in the status quo is effectively what killed off Kodak. “People will always want printed photographs” probably seemed like common sense at the time, but failed to take into account that people’s behaviors will change in the right circumstances.

Focus on figuring out whether a particular product or service would transform people’s current behavior. Don’t let the current norm decide the viability of future products.

You can apply this type of thinking to product and service design. You should also apply it to your internal processes.

Encouraging employees across all departments to ask “is there a better way we could be doing this?” will, in the long term, result in internal processes that are faster and more robust than your competitors’.

Welcome failure

Don’t just tolerate failure. Embrace it as proof that your organization is growing, learning and trying new things in the process.

Obviously there are limits here. If you encouraged every sort of failure possible, your company would be a mess. Tolerate avoidable administrative failure (because everyone makes a mistake once in a while), but don’t celebrate it.

On the other hand, welcome failure of new ideas. Think about what you can take from each idea that doesn’t work – was it a complete write-off? Why didn’t it work at this particular time? Are there any aspects of it that worked well, or that you could apply elsewhere?

Disruptive products aren’t often one-off, stroke-of-genius ideas. They’re built off knowledge gathered from experimentation elsewhere. Welcoming failure encourages this experimentation within your business.

Remove hierarchical obstacles

Good ideas come from everywhere. Your company culture needs to reflect this.

Your interns should have every confidence that their ideas will be taken just as seriously as a head of department’s. If not, you’re depriving yourself of a major source of innovative and disruptive thinking.

Remember: there’s a long history of the most disruptive ideas coming from outside of the establishment. Back in the 50s Leo Fender, who invented the modern electric guitar and transformed the entire face of pop music, was an inventor who had never played a guitar in his life. Similarly, the founders of Spotify were serial entrepreneurs, not record company execs.

Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to identify new opportunities. Make sure everyone feels comfortable speaking up, if they have something to say.

Disrupt your physical work environment

Rows of cubicles, boring meeting rooms, floor upon floor of drab, non-threatening decor in beige and gray…nothing screams “we do things by the book” to your workforce more.

Creative and disruptive companies place a lot of stock in how their physical workspace encourages their goals. Want to disrupt the status quo? Rethink your workplace to let those ideas flow.

At the very least, you’ll need to create spaces that encourage discussion and idea sharing. Sofas. Breakout spaces. A welcoming cafeteria with plenty of social seating. All of these facilitate those spontaneous conversations that spark great ideas.

The rest is up to you. The only stipulation is that your physical space inspires your workforce to think creatively. Maybe this involves ball pit meeting rooms and slides instead of elevators, or maybe it looks like something different entirely.

Don’t Let Lack of Expertise Hold You Back

We’ll leave you with one final tip: lack of in-house expertise around new tech solutions doesn’t need to be a barrier to disruption.

Let’s say that you have an idea that will change the face of the construction industry forever…but wait! The idea you have is based around an augmented reality app, and you don’t have the expertise to build one in house.

With our range of outsourced product development services, we can help.

Here at Tivix, we have a strong track record of creating digital products that allow our clients to realize the potential their ideas have – without the time and money cost of creating an in-house development team from scratch.

Get in touch today to see how we could help. Everything’s no obligation and centred around finding out more about your needs – what have you got to lose?