These days, every company claims its innovative by simply delivering a superior product or service. But in today's environment, that's not good enough. You have to think differently.

Of course, most people will remember the phrase "think different" as the tagline of the iconic advertising campaign that helped turn Apple around in the late '90s. Whether you're a Mac or a PC, it's hard to deny the appeal of the campaign, but for Apple and other truly disruptive companies, challenging the status quo isn't just a marketing strategy -- it's a directive.

Recent major advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, VR and AR, and an array of other fields have created endless opportunities for companies in virtually every industry. Companies that are able to find new applications for these and other emerging technologies are positioned to upend industries -- perhaps even creating new ones in the process. If that's your goal, here are three approaches that just might get you there:

1. Use technology to cut costly overhead.

This allows companies to achieve real "disruption," according to the most stringent definitions of the word. With technology, small businesses and startups with fewer personnel and material assets can compete with larger, more established businesses.

This is essentially the entire basis for the sharing and gig economies. When Uber upended the taxi industry at the beginning of this decade, it did so without having to purchase a single car, building a transportation giant with an app. Likewise, Airbnb has transformed the hospitality industry without owning an acre of real estate or staffing a single hotel.

Increasingly, technology allows companies to heighten the utility they get from assets they already have -- or, in some cases, entirely replace those assets with something more efficient.

2. Use technology to elevate existing industry processes.

As more companies are able to collect, store, and analyze large amounts of data, more are looking for ways to utilize the technology that it fuels: artificial intelligence.

Every year, manufacturing companies suffer losses due to massive recalls, despite the fact that manufacturing processes are closely monitored and well-maintained. In response to this, the founders of DataRPM have developed a solution in the form of Cognitive Predictive Maintenance, which relies on AI to detect micro-anomalies as they happen and before they can lead to a macro-event that results in a recall. The technology helps companies augment their existing inspection processes and potentially prevent huge financial losses and damage to reputations.

In the food industry, a favorite playground for entrepreneurs, AI is helping companies like halla and Kip match individuals and groups with meals by remembering their food preferences, thanks to machine learning.

In another hotbed for disruptors, the healthcare industry, it's proving especially useful in developing pharmaceuticals and discovering new drugs. Companies like Atomwise and Cloud Pharmaceuticals are using big data, deep learning, and neural networks to make innovating new medicines a more efficient and effective process.

3. Solve an industry wide pain point.

Some customer pain points are so deeply rooted in the fabric of an industry that they seem inescapable. Diabetes monitoring, for example, has one major (and literal) pain point: the painful pinprick of traditional finger sticks, which are required at regular intervals to monitor patients' glucose levels. With the recent FDA approval of a continuous glucose monitoring system, those days are numbered. The system allows for constant feedback on a patient's treatment needs without the constant prick of the finger.

In the world of consumer goods, Amazon has managed to subvert the very disruption it helped create -- the inconvenience of brick-and-mortar retailers compared to online stores. With its recent Amazon store locations, the giant is bringing the convenience of its review system and categorization to the process, with selections grouped by 4.8 stars and above or recommendations based on the love of a particular author or book.

In the building and construction industry, Skycatch is utilizing smart drones and machine learning to give construction workers, engineers, and other building professionals a view of their job sites with centimeter-level accuracy far beyond its competitors.

Christian Sanz, Skycatch's founder and CEO, started the company after watching workers struggling to take pictures of hard-to-reach places with their phones and companies hiring expensive pilots to gather visual data. He likes to think of his product as the equivalent to Apple's iPhone in an industry where most are still using flip phones. A number of VCs seem to agree -- Skycatch has raised more than $41 million in funding to date.

The most innovative companies generally aren't those with the most powerful or newest technology. They're the ones capable of using their technology in a completely new way. When they succeed, industry incumbents are forced to adapt or fall by the wayside. That's the power of disruption.

Published on: Jul 18, 2017
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