!URL http://mashable.com/2011/02/17/disruptive-thinking-innovation/ !Description Luke Williams, a fellow at frog design and adjunct professor at NYU Stern, is a leading consultant on innovation and the author of DISRUPT: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business. For more disruptive thinking tips visit: disruptive-thinking.com. In 2003, Jonah Staw was having dinner with some friends in a trendy restaurant in San Francisco when the discussion turned to what he calls “disruptive business ideas.” Suggestions were flying left and right, and at one point, someone asked, “How crazy would it be if some company started selling socks that didn’t match?” Everyone thought it was a terrible idea — not particularly practical, certainly not useful, and difficult to own — and they moved on. Everyone, that is, except Jonah, who couldn’t get the idea of mismatched socks out of his head. In his view, the sock category was lazy and boring; we’re still buying and wearing socks the same way we have for decades. And, how many times have you lost one sock and had to toss the matching one? There are all sorts of examples of companies that have been launched on the strength of their “disruptive thinking.” But one of my all-time favorites is Little Miss Matched. The company Jonah co-founded with two other friends challenged conventional sock industry wisdom. In late 2008, Little Miss Matched did a large deal with Macy’s and closed a $17 million funding round with the same investment partners that backed Build-A-Bear. With 6 retail stores and over 150 employees, Jonah and his partners are a long way from where they started 5 years earlier. So, what was the problem that the solution addressed? Well, there wasn’t any problem, and that’s exactly the point. Most people in business are trained to focus only on problems: things that don’t work and need fixing. It’s more effective to start by identifying something in your business or industry that’s not necessarily a problem, and then go about methodically breaking it down using the following steps. !Step 1: What Do You Want to Disrupt? The first step is to define the situation in the industry, segment, or category that you want to challenge. And by “situation,” I mean the broad view from 10,000 feet. This should be an area of your industry in which everyone seems to be stuck, and nothing has changed in a very long time. Once you have a situation to focus on, describe it in one sentence. The important thing is that the high-level situation you choose is just that: high-level. It’s possible that you could end up with a completely new solution to a very specific problem, but at this stage, such a narrow focus will greatly limit your options later. !Step 2: What Are the Business Clichés? Now that you’ve defined what you want to disrupt, the next step is to identify the assumptions that seem to influence the way insiders (and often outsiders) think about your situation. In other words, what are the clichés — the widespread, hackneyed beliefs that govern the way people think about and do business in a particular space. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that clichés are everywhere. (You’ll also notice that, almost by definition, they’ve lost their ingenuity and impact.) In the soft-drink industry, for example, some of the product clichés are as follows: Soda is inexpensive, it tastes sweet, and it’s advertised as aspirational. (For example, if you want to be like [celebrity spokesperson], you have to drink Mountain Dew.) In the rental car business, the prevailing interaction clichés include the following: Face-to-face interaction with a service agent, completing a lot of paperwork, and renting vehicles by the day. Start by getting online and identifying a handful of direct competitors in the industry, segment, or category you’re focused on. Do a little research on each competitor and make a list of the clichés that keep everyone doing the same thing, competing the same way, or operating with the same set of assumptions. The quickest and most efficient way to do this is to explore company websites, examine their advertising, and read what people are saying about the companies and their products on blogs and other social media platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon). If you’re searching for clichés with a team, or even if you’re doing it alone, all you need to come up with is a list of 9 to 12 clichés to work with as you develop your hypotheses. The challenge of identifying clichés is that the most obvious and seemingly natural assumptions are the easiest to ignore. We don’t consciously think about these things because “that’s the way they’ve always been.” !Step 3: What Are Your Disruptive Hypotheses? Now that you have a list of the clichés that are influencing the business situation you’re focused on, your next goal is to start provoking the status quo by generating several disruptive hypotheses: seemingly crazy ways to fill in the blank part of the question, “I wonder what would happen if we ________.” In the video rental business, “What would happen if we didn’t charge late fees?” Netflix. In fashion, “What would happen if we sold socks in sets of three, where none of them match?” Little Miss Matched. You’ll have to take those clichés and twist them like a Rubik’s Cube and look at them from the inside out, upside down, backward, and forward. Specifically, you’re looking for something (or things) that you could move in the opposite direction, or completely do without. !What Can You Invert? Let’s look at the soda industry. Inverting “soda is inexpensive,” gives you “soda is expensive.” Reversing “tastes good” gives you “tastes terrible,” both of which sound completely ridiculous. But, you can’t break the clichés without going through this step, which is exactly what Red Bull did. It placed absolutely no importance on taste, the product is double the price of Coca-Cola, and it dispensed with marketing aspirational images. The message was that Red Bull may not necessarily make you feel happy, but it’ll definitely give you a shot of energy when you need it. !What Can You Deny? Let’s return to our rental car example for a minute. What would happen if you no longer needed to see the customer, you got rid of the paperwork, and you started renting by the hour? Well, you’d end up with something very much like Zipcar, where there’s no waiting in line, no papers to fill out, and no pressure to upgrade or add 27 different kinds of insurance. In fact, there’s no face-to-face interaction at all. Customers apply to become members (or “zipsters”) and they reserve vehicles online. !Conclusion After going through these steps, you should be able to generate several brilliant, wacky hypotheses that will challenge your established way of looking at an industry, segment or category. The general rule is that bolder “What Ifs” will offer a fresher perspective. So, don’t worry if your hypotheses seem completely ridiculous. As these stories illustrate, inverting or denying industry clichés can often lead to significant business breakthroughs.