Increase Your Competitive Advantage Through Disruptive Innovation

Business people crossing finish line. Wayne O'Neill and AssociatesFighting for the competitive advantage, battling for market share and struggling for differentiation has long been the business strategy norm.  Being “different” is supposed to add value to your product or services.  But, with everyone claiming to be different, newer, better, … how do you get noticed in today’s market?  After all, most people are usually most comfortable with what is familiar.   Even successful companies operating in mature industries may choose to make only minor changes to their product or services because these small changes fit within the business model that is most familiar and has been successful in the past.  However, many  organizations have become trapped by existing perceptions, culture, or structure and hesitate to break free of the “the way we have always done things” even though they are no longer effective in today’s market.  The challenge is to think differently in order to create the next big idea that will transform and grow your business.


One man who taught us to think different and see opportunities even in life’s setbacks was Steve Jobs.  Here’s a quote from “Tribute to Steve Jobs Think Different” on YouTube“Here’s to the ones who see things differently.  They are not fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you cannot do is ignore them.  Because they change things.  They push the human race forward.  While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”


3 Recommendations for Innovation by Steve Jobs:

1.   Trust that the Dots will Connect in the future.  Follow your curiosity and intuition.  “You have to trust that the dots will connect down the road in order to give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path and that will make all the difference. ”  quote by Steve Jobs

2.  When Life Hits You in the Head with a Brick, Don’t Lose Faith.  Find what you love and do it.

3.  In order to Do Great Work, Love What You Do and Don’t Settle.


Thinking differently requires change and change demands disruptive thinking.  The term “disruptive” means “breaking apart”.  Disruptive thinking, therefore, invites creativity that breaks away in order to break into new markets.  For example, through a disruptive dialogue between Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, the concept of Southwest Airlines was born.  Southwest Airlines became a disruptive innovation with its pared-down, unconventional business model that focuses on punctual arrivals and departures, and no-frills, yet friendly service.  Southwest Airlines offers a great value and dependability for a specific segment of the market that has helped the airline to thrive in a time when many others are failing.   Southwest Airlines continues to succeed by daring to be different.


Disruptive thinking drives innovation causing the birth of a new kinds of products or service that captures a share of industry value, which, otherwise, will go to industry incumbents.  Renée Mauborgne & W. Chan Kim talk about this kind of disruptive innovation in the opening pages of their international bestseller book, Blue Ocean Strategy:  How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant when they refer to “Cirque du Soleil” as a unique combination of theater and circus. This hybrid show draws new and different kinds of customers who enjoy the imaginary world of drama, dance and creative acting, along with daring feats, extreme dexterity, graceful synchronization, and extraordinary acrobatic circus performance, plus a variety of art forms from around the world that attract a whole new audience.


But where do you start?  How do you come up with a disruptive innovation?


In Daniel Goleman’s book, The Brain And Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, he talks about brain studies, and the role of the neocortex and the subcortex in terms of decision making and creativity.  He sites a study done of California entrepreneurs who built businesses from nothing, into huge amounts.  And they were asked, “How do you make your decisions?” They all said essentially the same thing. They were voracious gatherers of data. They had very broad nets, things that other people wouldn’t think might be relevant. They delved into the numbers, they looked into everything, and then they would check it against their gut feeling.   What that means is that the first part of the process is cortical, associated with the cerebral cortex: the part of the brain that thinks in words and numbers.  Then you check that against your gut feeling.  If the numbers looked good, but it didn’t feel right, then these entrepreneurs didn’t go forward.  If the numbers looked good and it felt right, then these entrepreneurs moved forward.   In other words, it is good to “trust your gut.”


Goleman, well known for emotional intelligence, explains why gathering data, then checking it with your gut feeling is a good idea.  There’s a primitive part of the brain in the brain stem that gathers decision roles. As we face a decision point, it summarizes your life experience relevant to the topic, and sends you a message. The problem is it has no connection to the part of the brain that thinks in words. It sends the message to the gut. The GI tract. So when you say trust your gut, it’s actually literally true.


Brain studies measuring EEG brain waves during a creative insight reveal a very high gamma activity spike 300 milliseconds before an answer comes to us.  Goleman explains, “Gamma activity indicates the binding together of neurons, as far-flung brain cells connect in a new neural network – as when a new association emerges.  Immediately after that gamma spike, the new idea enters our consciousness.  This heightened activity focuses on the temporal area, a center on the side of the right neocortex.  This is the same brain area that interprets metaphor and “gets” jokes. It understands the language of the unconscious what Freud called the “primary process”: the language of poems, art, and myth. It’s the logic of dreams where anything goes and the impossible becomes possible.”


How can we best mobilize this brain ability to innovate? 

1.  Link up:  Concentrate intently on the goal or problem.  Grapple with the problem.  Focus intensely.  Define the problem, then immerse yourself in it.

2.  Let go:  Mentally relax.  Go get a drink of water, eat a snack to get your glucose up, do yoga, take a power nap or go for a walk.  Trying to force an insight can inadvertently stifle a creative breakthrough. If you stress too much, feel excessive pressure to produce or just think too hard or too long, you may lose the ability come up with fresh perspective or new way of seeing things, let alone generate a truly creative insight.


Experiencing high alpha rhythm, your mind will move into a state of openness, of daydreaming and drifting, which is needed in order for the brain to be receptive to new ideas.  Once you allow your brain to relax, the stage is set for novel connections that occur during the gamma spike of spontaneous creative insights that seem to come out of nowhere.   The “Aha” moments come just after “down time” where the right hemisphere of the brain connects to other parts of the brain, collects more information and puts them together in creative, novel organization.


How can we increase the likelihood of a gamma spike where creative insight occurs?

Remember that moment of pure joy that often comes after the creative insight?  One creative idea can multiply into a team of even better ideas if the leader remembers that creative ideas are like fragile buds that need to be fed and nurtured so they can blossom.

  • Make use of all your 5 senses to get inspiration for creative ideas.
  • Identify your area of strength and include a diverse array of people in your think tank because people have creative strengths in different areas.
  • During brainstorming, do not allow any negative comments to follow a new idea.  That will kill creativity.
  • If you need innovation and you tend to be critical or cynical, hold your tongue.   Refine and dissect the idea later, not on the onset because the flow stage is where maximum productivity occurs.
  • The final stage is implementation, where a good idea either sinks or swims.


Daniel Goleman in his article “Maximize Your “Aha!” Moment” shared this example:  “I remember talking to the director of a huge research lab. He had about 4,000 scientists and engineers working for him. He told me, “We have a rule about a creative insight: if somebody offers a novel idea, instead of the next person who speaks shooting it down – which happens all too often in organizational life – the next person who speaks must be an ‘angel’s advocate,’ someone who says, ‘that’s a good idea and here’s why.'”


Link up and let go to expand creative insights to navigate in tomorrow’s unchartered waters.


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