Disruptive leaders are brave. Their bravery is revealed by their absolute willingness to lean into their own executive development by accepting and even driving the changes occurring both with in their organization and outside in the markets and economies they serve.
Many of today’s leading companies began as market disruptors. They include:
- Airbnb. Launched in 2008 by Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, by understanding and leveraging shifts in consumer behavior this global hospitality giant succeeded by overturning conventions in the hospitality business that had been around since the 1950s.
- SpaceX. Headed by Elon Musk, this disruptor of the aerospace industry designs, manufactures, and launches re-usable rockets and spacecraft, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. The company’s success comes at a time when private companies are entering the space market, an endeavor long associated with, and controlled by, national governments.
- Facebook. Led by Mark Zuckerberg, this massive global social media company, founded in 2004, has totally disrupted and transformed how people communicate and share information. Similar digital disruptors include Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
- Spotify. Founded by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, this music steaming service has disrupted the economic model of popular music by shifting billions of consumers away from buying music (records, CDs, MP3 downloads) to renting it. With Spotify and other streaming services you pay a fee to listen to a song. Each time you listen, the owner of the song gets a micropayment.
- Netflix. The brainchild of Reed Hastings, Netflix has disrupted how we view movies and has shaken up the movie production industry. Remember Blockbuster video rentals? Blockbuster was blind to the disruptive force of Netflix, and by failing to respond, it got crushed.
Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Tesla, Spanx, Red Bull, WeWork, 23andMe, SurveyMonkey… the list goes on and on. We live in an era of unprecedented market disruption.
This makes many excellent leaders nervous. I talk with CEOs who say to me, “Nick, my business isn’t going to change the world. I’m not Steve Jobs or Sara Blakely.” They say, “We’re a service business,” or, “Our product is ubiquitous. We’re not high-tech.”
Two Key Points About Innovating in Your Market
To these leaders, I make two key points:
1. If that’s the case, then you’re not competing head-to-head against Apple or Spanx. You’re competing in your market, which I presume you know very well. I’m sure your market is very intense and competitive in its own way.
2. While most businesses aren’t going to be massive market disruptors, any business can innovate and stay one step ahead of their competition. For example, in November 2017 Domino’s Pizza rolled out its “Pizza Insurance” program. It simply states that if your takeout pizza gets run over by a car, or drenched in the rain, or dropped on the sidewalk, within two hours of purchase you can bring it back to the same store, uneaten and in its original packaging, and you’ll get a free replacement pizza of the same type.
Is there any product more ubiquitous than pizza? Or any market more competitive? And yet Domino’s stays ahead of the competition by making innovations in how its product is marketed, and disrupting—in an incremental way—the pizza home delivery industry.
I’ll bet there are functional areas in your business ready for innovation. All you have to do is identify them and nurture them.