Innovation and disruption are fundamentally about identifying and solving problems for your target market in a way that changes your industry overall. The angles from which disruptive development can be approached are endless, and leaves businesses with a broad variety of possibilities to sort and evaluate. Unfortunately, this theoretical wealth of options can be problematic for businesses, because some kinds of innovations are, of course, going to be more competitive than others.

treasure map - Innovation relies on vision and direction

Massive high-profile businesses have poured vast resources into developing and optimising legitimately impressive products, only to flop ignominiously with consumers because their groundbreaking innovations didn’t actually address consumer demands. Similarly, some seemingly inconsequential changes have turned out to redefine how entire industries operate.

In order to succeed, businesses need to find a way to evaluate different options. They need to develop a vision of what they want to be for their customers, and a direction for how to get there. There’s no way to push development without an element of risk, but there are a few things that can give you an idea of which kinds of ideas are more promising than others. The most important factor in doing this is understanding what customers want and expect from your business.

Take note of unrealistic expectations

Every business has customers that come through the door with completely unrealistic expectations. This could take many forms, from demanding impossibly fast shipping, massive and instant returns on their investment, low prices, or unmanageable transparency. Often, those expectations are built on ignorance of your industry and the service that they’re buying.

Businesses in all industries are routinely forced to educate their clients in order to manage expectations and to keep lines of communication open and cordial. These conversations, however, also offer critical insight into what customers ideally want to see from your industry. Many of the big transformative disruptions that we see are a result of a business finding a way to make one of these impossible dreams come true.

The key for businesses is to be aware of what these pie-in-the-sky dreams are, to know which are worth pursuing, and to be the business to transform them from fantastical to feasible.

Determine disruptive potential

The most disruptive innovations are not those that excite and amaze clients for years to come. Rather, they’re those that people quickly become used to and learn to expect. In the prior case, you can stand out as a premium quality business, which is great, but only gives you access to customers who are looking for premium services. In the latter case, your business becomes the only real option in your industry, because your competitors are considered obsolete rather than “normal”.

It’s these kinds of transformative shifts that created industry-dominant giants like Google, Uber, or Amazon. Keeping that in mind, it’s a good idea to mindfully focus your business’ efforts on developing solutions that fundamentally improve your customer’s experience over those that are just easy to market and build hype for.

Keeping track of your clients’ wild ideas about what should be possible isn’t the only way to identify problems whose solutions are likely to have this effect, but it’s by far the easiest. If you find an innovative way to meet one of these “impossible” expectations, you can quickly establish your business as the only one that can provide the new “normal” quality of service.

Review feasibility

There is, of course, a hitch in this plan. The problem with meeting impossible expectations is that those expectations often really are impossible, or incredibly impractical, to meet. Luckily, progress is unstoppable, and advancements are made in every imaginable field on a near-daily basis. What sounded ludicrous last year could be technically possible next year, and inexpensive within another year after that.

Innovative businesses need to review these issues on a regular basis to determine whether potential solutions have become feasible. To do that, you need to be aware of exactly what obstacles stand in the way of progress. Advancements in production, shipping, computing, or other technologies can remove these barriers overnight, regardless whether you make those advancements yourself, or if someone in a completely different industry does. By reviewing the feasibility of potentially disruptive improvements that you’ve dismissed in the past, you can make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity when it eventually arrives.

Recognising in which direction your industry should progress, identifying ways to drive your business toward that future, and seizing opportunities to make it a reality are key to being a disruptor. This targeted approach allows your business to pursue innovation and development in a way that doesn’t break your budget, while still aiming for industry leadership.

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