As we know, change is the only constant. Consumer behaviors are always evolving, either as a response to a new idea or as a rejection of an old one. Companies who track consumer behaviors and approach new ways of thinking with reckless abandon are the agitators, the disruptors, the status quo hates, which is why so many of them are so successful.

Being effectively disruptive is not easy, but there's a science behind the thinking that all Earth shatterers understand. So what does disruption look like anyway?

It flips the fundamentals 180 degrees

Disruption is a form of innovation, but it exists on a different plane. When the seed of a business idea is first planted, it usually takes the form of fixing a problem or satisfying a pain point among a certain audience. That's disruptive thinking.

As the process of building a viable product or service crystallizes, however, the focus often shifts to making smaller, more incremental improvements. This way of thinking can result in innovative ideas for sure, but they're more influenced by what's happening in the here and now than by how people might behave in the future.

Yes, it's unnerving to commit to meeting consumer needs and habits that don't exist just yet, but that's why disruptors change the game with a sonic boom - they pay more attention to audience trends than what's going on within their own walls.

Take Netflix as an example. The company recognized there was an easier way to get entertainment into the hands of consumers --stream it. Movie buffs no longer had to wait to watch the latest blockbuster, they could access it on demand. And speaking of Blockbuster, this behavioral switch to streaming entertainment, completely obliterated the brand.

Had Netflix continued to innovate off of its DVD subscription model, would it have more than 93 million subscribers? Not likely. At best, it would have kept them relevant for a few more years.

It makes existing markets, industries or technologies obsolete

Companies that have been disrupted often find there's no coming back from it. Shopping malls across the country are blighted with shuttered department stores that have no relevance in today's economy. The yellow cab industry realized it couldn't get even with Uber, so it got angry instead.

In most cases, it's the corporate giants or industries that have existed for decades unchallenged that fall the hardest. They assume that audiences are so comfortable doing business as usual, they won't make the effort to adapt to something new, different or foreign. And that's exactly when disruptors pounce.

Today's most successful disruptors have shown us it's all about efficiency, removing layers from old processes. "New and improved" for disruptive companies means "now without middlemen," which is most reflective in a refreshing consumer experience that eliminates negative associations with brands.

Look at Tesla. No one likes the experience of buying a car off the lot, so the automotive disruptor didn't even build dealerships. Not only did this streamline the process, but it gave the brand an air of exclusivity that justified its cost.

Displacing entire industries isn't about coming up with a new product that puts everyone else out of business. It's about making simple tweaks based on what audiences are telling you (you are listening to your audience constantly, right?) and taking advantage of the blind spots that exist within industry behemoths.

It has its roots on the inside

How can a company disrupt a market if it approaches its own way of doing business like everyone before it? From whom they staff to whom they partner with, disruptive companies are the ones their competitors look at and think "I never would have thought to do that."

There are plenty of examples of companies that put a premium on innovation as a hallmark of their culture. What this means essentially is that employees are encouraged (almost required) to share off-the-wall ideas, participate in regular brainstorming sessions and have a diverse set of outside interests that fuels their work. Many companies operate this way now, but are nuancing the approach to be even more disruptive.

From embedding engineers into every department to creating "intrapreneurs" via internal crowdsourcing, companies are finding that in order to upend the establishment, they first must learn how to upend themselves. And the giants are taking notice - collaboration between titans and lean newcomers is at an all-time high, as big businesses aim to regain their footing with their audiences.

Innovation is no longer enough when the goal is to have a lasting, meaningful impact with customers. It takes disruptive thinking on a higher plane to truly shake up a stagnant business model, technology or market and forever alter behaviors and thought processes.

Published on: Feb 10, 2017