What it Really Means to be Disruptive

Disruptive innovation is the creation and deployment of substitutes. Disruption is great for your customers, both internal and external, because it completely eliminates processes that are time-consuming and expensive by replacing them with something better. It is also great for you because your competitors are mostly offering products and services that do not replace those bad processes, but merely perform them a little better or cheaper. Being disruptive is a magical feeling and it builds your legacy. Being a little faster or cheaper is a dogfight – it burns you out and is not very valuable to your customers.

Think about critical paper documents: it’s safer and cheaper to ship them via overnight carrier than US Mail, so there is some incremental value in overnight services. But it’s totally disruptive to the entire process of executing critical documents to never use paper at all. The big picture goal of the customer isn’t to print and ship something, it is to execute a contract, serve official notice or record history. So why spend your valuable energy and talent on helping them print and ship a little better when you can design a substitute to help them execute contracts better? By focusing on the big picture goals of your customers, you can design great substitutes. The more processes and outputs your creation eliminates, the more value it has and the more disruptive it is.

Disruptive innovation is relevant to everyone, not just companies developing new technology or services. It scales perfectly from individual contributors all the way up to executives and companies as a whole. Your role, regardless of how small it is, carries some level of empowerment with it. Use every ounce of that empowerment. Understand what your customer’s (i.e. recipient of your output) big picture goal is and then answer this question:

What can I change about my process and output that creates a substitute?

This is big picture vision, so don’t hold back with the ideas. The nuts and bolts of how it gets executed are important later (that’s where small picture vision comes in). If you are a rock star performer, your ideas will be well-received and you are on your way to building a disruptive legacy.

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