Philosophies at the Heart of Business Disruption

A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to attend the International Franchise Association convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Besides the phenomenal weather DeAnna and I experienced — sidenote: we conveniently left the Midwest just in time to beat out more than a foot of snow — we were also able to catch up with clients and contacts and sit in on some informative sessions.

Our biggest takeaway: In order for franchises to sell and continue to advance their business model, they need to become some kind of “disruptor.”

As someone who works with mainly clients in the B2B space, and especially when considering tech companies I’ve worked with in the past, the term disruptor is nothing new. In fact, almost every startup desires to cause disruption in a given market: Uber and Lyft disrupted the taxi industry, creating a car sharing experience; Dropbox disrupted file sharing; and Google and Facebook essentially disrupted the internet and our entire experience of it.

Disruption is easier said than done though. And, in my opinion, some companies plan to be disruptors — and unfortunately fall short of their goals — while others sort of stumble into a role as disruptor due to a combination of foresight, timing, hard work and a little bit of luck.

While people much smarter than me are writing dissertations about disruption and creating frameworks around the concept, I wanted to offer a few initial ideas for considering how to think and act like a disruptor. It's something that takes time and a proactive attitude. And, based on conversations I’ve had with some amazing disruptors, I think there needs to be a level of looseness about what you’re doing. In short, you can’t take yourself too seriously.

With that, I wanted to share several philosophies to help anyone out there looking to further channel their inner disruptor.

Do all the proper market research

By definition, a disruptor is bringing something new to a given industry, shaking it up with innovation. But to know if something is new or not — and, importantly, if there is even demand for it — disruptors need to know what their up against when it comes to the market they seek to sell in.

Do your due diligence. Study the field and, depending on seed money or what kind of personal investments you’re putting into a new venture, hire a market research firm to provide you with initial answers to questions like: Is my product or service relevant? Are people going to want to buy it?

I can think of a few products which sound very cool in theory that, in reality, just don’t have a great deal of demand around them.

Partner with the right people

Whether it is your co-founders, first hires or partner firms or agencies, be sure that the people you’re bringing on to help advance your mission as a disruptor have the right attitude and share a common vision for disruption.

Disruption can be kind of contagious; it is fueled by human ingenuity and creativity in large part. So, for any budding entrepreneurs out there seeking to bring to market the next great disruptor, start surrounding yourself with those types of thinkers.

If you’re in a large city, consider joining a tech incubator — for example, Chicago’s 1871 — or a WeWork type of location to find a work space that blends community and the vibrancy of fellow aspiring disruptors.

Be willing to make sacrifices

Entrepreneurship isn’t a 9 to 5 type of gig. It’s sort of cliche...anyone who either owns a business or works at a startup probably has heard this a number of times. And even if you’re not involved in a startup, you’re likely beyond a kind of 9 to 5 professional life.

But the sacrifices a person looking to disrupt goes through go beyond working long or odd hours. They involve potentially not paying yourself for weeks, even months, to invest back in your business or idea and wait for things to take shape. If you have a family to support, being a startup is going to be especially trying at times. It’s unsteady and can be a major rollercoaster ride.

However, the payoff for those who keep their nose to the grindstone and find a way to truly disrupt can be well worth the time spent working tirelessly on their business.  

Possess an ironclad fearlessness of failure

Failure is not in the DNA of a disruptor. If disruptors feared failure, we wouldn’t have Apple or Microsoft or essentially any of the major tech companies that have taken shape in the last half century.

Being allergic to failure is not the same as being naive or unaware that failure is a possibility — it is, rather, an attitude that failure isn’t an option and it allows the driven disruptor to be laser focused on particular strategies, tasks and relationships that will help her or him achieve their ultimate goal: of being the next startup success story.

Do you have tips on thinking and working like a disruptor? I’d love to hear more about them! Email me at and I’ll feature them in an upcoming blog.