Today’s customers are inundated with noise. Noise from constantly being marketed to, noise from all the choices they have - it’s just noisy!

Disruptive Innovation: How to surprise and shake up the marketplace

Disruptive innovation is more than just shaking things up for the sake of doing so. It’s also more than a slight shift or bend in the marketplace.

Real disruptive innovation creates a loud interruption or break in the marketplace.

I’d like to suggest an even more specific and up-to-date definition of disruptive innovation that will help you drive your innovation efforts and stay one, if not ten, steps ahead of the marketplace.

Disruptive innovation is an emerging product, service or technology that does one or multiple of the following:

Redefines a category

For generations we defined a circus as a 3 tent pop up with animals, a ring leader and popcorn stands. You can picture it in your head can’t you? Then came Cirque Du Soleil that took the concept of a circus and flipped it on it’s head, literally. They took out the animals and put in incredible human acrobats, storytelling and performance. They redefined the circus category. And while other circuses were going under across the country, they thrived. Netflix completely redefined movie rental.  No more going to a location.

Disruptive innovation doesn't happen in the cluttered seas where everyone else is playing, That's where innovation dies. Disruptive innovation happens on the fringes when you expand, alter or change a category completely. Much like Uber did to the Taxi world.


Creates new customer behavior

We always talk about how change is hard but in truth we change all the time when it provides us with an improvement in lifestyle or workflow. Take Dollar Shave Club that changed hundreds of thousands of people purchased razors. No more stores, hello subscription razors delivered to your doorstep. Or the ubiquitous cell phones and their apps that changed how we interact with the world.

I often get asked what the definition of "disruptive change" is, but in truth, that's not the question you should be asking yourself. Instead of asking what they definition of disruptive change is, I suggest you ask yourself, "how can I bring meaningful innovation to my customer in a way that improves or changes their current behaviors?" The businesses and leaders that ask this question will be the ones creating the new curves in the marketplace.. They will be the ones to create disruptive change.

Keurig coffee pods created a one-cup coffee culture that didn't exist prior. Now customers are used to making one steaming hot cup of coffee at a time instead of having to make a full pot. This is a perfect example of the definition of disruptive innovation coming to life in a meaningful way for coffee lovers.


Changes Trajectory of Business

Sometimes disruption isn’t seen directly in the marketplace but is felt internally, within an organization. This happens when a single product, service or department in your business outshines the rest of your product mix and ultimately becomes the business. Basecamp, a project management tool by 37signals, was one of many cloud based offerings when they started. It became so successful, that it became the entire business. WD40 wasn’t intended to be a huge success, but it was and that changed the trajectory of the entire business. I call it following a mutation. When a single aspect of your business becomes your business and changes the fundamental direction of the company.

The thing to remember with disruptive innovation is that we often don’t see it coming. Coffee filter makers were focusing on increasing the quality of their paper cones and didn’t see Keurig and coffee pods coming. Coffee consumption was up after all. The genius minds behind Blackberry, who created the handheld category, didn’t see Apple ipods and iphone coming, replacing the current handheld marketplace. Blockbuster doubled down on customer service while Netflix was changing expectations in the marketplace. You get the picture.

Disruption doesn’t come from the close in competitors doing things in a similar way. Disruptive innovation comes at you from the outside. When we work with clients on disruptive innovation we are seeking to create that disruption from the inside out so that our clients can continue to create the curve.

The challenge is, you have to be open to disrupting business as it currently exists. And in reality, if you don’t drive disruption, someone else will.


The disruptive innovation definition presented above should give you a solid framework to create meaningful differentiation in the marketplace.. It will help you determine if your work is creating the disruption or being disrupted.