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Powering to Breakthrough: Disrupting Markets and Creating Opportunity

As negative economic news continues to dominate the constant chatter of the daily news cycle, bad news seems to endlessly accumulate. Cherished and comfortable institutions, brand names, ways of doing things and simple everyday assumptions are struggling every day to maintain their steady continuity in a world increasingly defined by rapid change. At first glance, it may seem that today’s economic climate is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate and less likely to offer true successes. Failure, it seems, is driving out success.

The truth, however, is that many of the world’s most successful enterprises got their start in the depths of economic downturns. Microsoft, FedEx, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, Walt Disney Studios and Beechcraft all were created and spurred to their earliest successes during times of deep economic trials. Now household names, these companies and others like them founded empires – and reshaped the world – during bleak business times by striking at the hearts of their industries with powerful new ways of doing business. With a handful of disruptive innovations, they changed the rules for everyone.

The power of a single disruptive idea is often enough to shake the world.

In January 1841, something new and entirely novel sailed into Chinese waters at the height of the China’s First Opium War: the Nemesis, Britain’s first ocean vessel made entirely of iron. For millennia, wood was the favored and natural material for ships. Iron, on the other hand, was heavy. Iron did not naturally float, commonly considered a thoroughly unsuitable construction material for ships – especially in wartime. In the Nemesis, however, a ship designer named John Laird incorporated a single new idea – the watertight bulkhead – that allowed the British Navy to set sail for China heavily armed with effectively a floating fortress. This one disruptive innovation changed modern ocean travel completely, forever.

Disruptive ideas are the ones that rewrite the rules. They don’t require mammoth investments, or large amounts of resources dedicated to directly compete in established markets. These real innovations – such as Microsoft’s PC operating systems, or the overnight delivery reach of FedEx, or John Laird’s bulkhead – force unexpected changes on existing value chains, leading to entirely new market paradigms.

As your competitors fight for smaller and smaller pieces of shrinking markets, how can your business spark a breakthrough? How can your disruptive idea transform the world?

Challenge the cliches. In every industry, cliches and assumption lead businesses to make the same mistakes over and over again, blinding them to the real opportunities revealing themselves. Everyone knows that no one will pay more for Product X. Everyone knows that without Service Y, maintaining a competitive edge is impossible. Look carefully at the universally accepted axioms that permeate your industry. How many are merely assumptions and old wives tales? Are there any exceptions to the rules, ways to turn cherished beliefs on their heads?

Try new things at every opportunity. When in doubt, diversify: overly concentrating your efforts on a single limited business plan is certain to blind you to the powerful opportunities that await just outside the reach of your perception. Be a fool. Fight the tide. Attempt the impossible whenever you can – you’ll be surprised how often you actually achieve it.

Build a better magic lamp. Deep down, everyone wants to find a genie’s lamp and wish their way to fame, fortune and success. They want to achieve more while working less, to harness ever more simple powers to create mightier and more profound achievements. People tend to overcomplicate things. How can you instead make things simpler? How can you offer your customers the magic lamp they need to solve all of their problems with a single well made wish?

Leverage small societies. As you consider larger and larger groups of customers, products, services and business requirements, the unique differences that can inspire real innovation get lost in statistical noise. Avoid obscuring your vision in the mass averaging of lowest common denominator thinking. Instead, turn to the small groups, to the small societies that still allow for individual expression and specialized niche demands. Developing micromarkets can spark important insights that will enable you to reinvent major industries.

Preempt established value. Don’t prejudge your worth. True innovation defines its own price by disrupting the value chains that already exist. How can your idea alter how people perceive the cost value of existing, established products and services? By forcing a perspective shift in how value is created, traded and used in the world, the value of your own idea becomes nearly unlimited.

Breakthroughs are common, because ideas are easy to come by. Ideas are everywhere, available to anyone with an interest in finding them. Disruptive ideas, however, are more than creative fancies: combined with intelligent market insight and the will to succeed, they can form the blueprint for a new world. And they can deliver fortune to the business brave enough to follow their lead.

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