How do you decide where to take your company or product next? As entrepreneurs, we're always gathering information all the time to figure out the answer to that question.
Sometimes, we get conflicting signals. We look at companies that are constantly in the headlines--the Ubers and Googles of the world--and we're constantly told that they here by "disrupting." And if we want to achieve that same level of success, we should be disrupting, too--shaking things up, taking risks, thinking bigger and bolder all the time.
But is disruption really always the way to go? More established companies, who have found a way to do their job and do it well, delivering consistency and reliability to their consumers and stockholders, might say no. So who is correct?
Aim for balance--not disruption.
The answer is neither. Or, I should say, neither one is fully correct. It's all about balance. Specifically, a balance between doing things old-school and new-school thinking.
Courtney Reum, co-founder of VeeV, puts it perfectly when discussing his new book, Shortcut Your Startup. "We wanted our book to be 50 percent new ideas and 50 percent known, tried and true advice," says Reum. "We didn't want to jump on this wave of 'disruption.'"
There is, of course, merit to disruption. No one wants to get stuck in a rut, especially when you're first starting out.
It can be tempting to look at these hot companies--the "unicorns," as Reum calls them--and try to mimic what they're doing. Oh, they're partnering with an app that reads your mind and tells you what you want to eat and that's somehow the most sustainable way to decide which restaurant to host your birthday dinner? Cool, how do we apply that to our company? Let's go!
I'm being facetious, of course, but this is a serious dilemma that many entrepreneurs face. This trend of throwing out everything you once knew and starting over is huge, and lately it feels like it's only growing.
The truth of the matter is that constant disruption isn't realistic. It's also simply not always the answer. Sometimes, there's value in doing things the old-fashioned way, at least at first.
Just look at Under Armour.
Take Under Armour, for example. If you played sports growing up, then you may have once known them simply as a brand that made moisture-wicking athletic wear. The company was successful, and they made a great product. They could have kept doing things the way they were doing them, improving the technology, wicking away even more sweat until all of our armpits were bone dry. Honestly, that would've been kind of cool.
But instead, they disrupted. They used all of the knowledge they had gathered from years in the industry and identified where things were heading next, and what made sense for them.
They acquired three apps for tracking health, fitness and nutrition, and turned themselves into a digital sports company. Now, along with helping you not be sweaty (again, great product), they've fully integrated themselves into your full fitness experience.
They didn't disrupt the entire industry, and that's the point I'm trying to make here. They didn't jump on becoming a digital sports company when Nike+ launched in 2010. They kept doing what they were doing, what worked for them, and waited until it was time for them to disrupt, in the way that they saw fit.
Now, this isn't to say that you need to have Under Armour's level of expertise before you decide to disrupt. But blind disruption is not likely to yield immediate growth and money and cool company parties with trapeze artists, as much as current startup culture would like you to think it will.
The truth is that real innovation lies somewhere between what's tried and true and your next big idea for how to change the world.
So don't disrupt just for the sake of disruption. When you're trying to figure out what direction your company should head in, and if it's time to disrupt, look at how you've been doing things.
What approaches have you taken that have worked? Which ones have been less successful? If your approach looks drab, then it may be time to disrupt. Just keep in mind that old saying about your friends and jumping off cliffs.