People find change uncomfortable, and many aren’t willing to change until it’s too late. For entrepreneurs, innovators, and all-around game-changers, though, successful disruption is the ultimate goal. If you want to disrupt your industry or the competition, however, you will likely have to disrupt your own business first.
Consider Netflix. In its infancy, the company ran up the numbers with an original DVD-by-mail idea that was dead simple and dirt cheap. When streaming video appeared on the horizon, however, Netflix decided that—rather than risk being put out of business by the new technology—it would compete with itself by offering a DVD alternative.
Since then, Netflix has continued to evolve: Today the company gathers data to personalize movie and TV show recommendations for its users and to decide what original programming to produce. Its market-dominating results make it clear that anticipatory change can work.
On the flip side of this case is Kodak, which was once the Netflix of the photography industry. Sensing the winds of change, Kodak stopped selling film cameras in 2004 and designed some of the first digital cameras. Still, the company never really went all in, and ultimately Kodak couldn’t keep up with the advancing quality of phone cameras and editing apps. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
This just shows that it’s a real challenge to stay ahead of the curve. Just because you have drive and a good idea doesn’t mean you’re destined to start the next Uber, Airbnb, or Tesla. If you want to be a true disrupter in your industry, here are three steps to follow.
1. Offer something radically new.
The difference between change and disruption is the level of impact. If you improve a product or service to benefit customers, you have the makings of a successful business. If you want to disrupt your market, however, you need to create a solution that offers customers something they didn’t have before or provide a service or product to a customer base that is underserved.
Just look at how Amazon disrupted shopping for books—and, eventually, virtually everything else. Once upon a time, if you wanted to pick up a novel, you visited a brick-and-mortar bookstore and hoped the proprietors had a copy among their limited selection. As often as not, you’d hear the dreaded words “We can special order it for you.” (Cue a three-week wait.)
Amazon gave book shoppers something they didn’t have before: a vast selection delivered quickly right to their doors. Now Amazon is an online retailing giant with the potential to disrupt many other industries—including healthcare.
So, ask yourself what society needs. What do consumers want but have difficulty obtaining? Then, evaluate your list for any solutions that appear to offer customers something new. If you can come up with a way to satisfy current wants or needs in a fundamentally different way, or serve a currently underserved customer base, you have the potential to disrupt an industry.
2. Value creativity and innovation over “best practices.”
To find the right problem to solve, look at the market in ways that established organizations can’t or won’t. The biggest brands may have the most resources, but they tend be stuck in their ways. Typically, they can’t react fluidly as consumer needs, interests, and demands change.
Take a tip from Code and Theory, a digital-first creative company that Nasdaq has recognized as an industry disruptor. Code and Theory encourages employees not to be hindered by “best practices.” After all, “best practices” are all about what’s already been done—not something entirely new. Dan Gardner, the company’s co-CEO, says adhering to them “pigeonholes the creativity to solve a problem in a disruptive way.” The real best practice is to grow and adapt freely.
3. Put technology and data to work.
No matter what industry you try to disrupt or in what way you to try to do it, data and technology can be a huge help. Technology doesn’t just revolutionize businesses, it changes how consumers behave in every aspect of their lives. If you track the market and note where interest in new technology is heaviest, you can likely foresee what areas are most ripe for disruption.
For instance, while Netflix’s DVD-by-mail model already had Blockbuster on the ropes back in the early 2000s, it arguably wasn’t until the technology infrastructure allowed video streaming that the company caused true disruption. Now the company’s subscribers don’t even remember a time when they had to choose what they wanted to watch two days in advance of movie night. Today, as Netflix moves increasingly into original content creation, its use of subscriber data is enabling a personalized, interactive viewer experience that is changing the face of television and will likely lead to continued innovation and new products.
These examples show how a nimble approach to change can pay off. Change occurs every day in every industry, so simply being a little better than the alternative isn’t a recipe for lasting success. If you want to make a memorable impact, be the disruptive force that drives your company and your industry into the future.