Disrupt or be disrupted … 12 “disruptor” techniques to reinvent your business, to shape the future to your advantage

July 12, 2017

My book “Gamechangers” is all about businesses who are shaking up their markets, shaping the future to their advantage. At the heart of this is disruption.

The best companies increasingly shape their industries in their own vision. They redesign them to their advantage, in ways that make it hard for other companies to compete. Jack Welch once said “You need to destroy your own business before somebody else does – to think like a disruptor”.

The phrase became popular initially through TBWA’s Jean Marie Dru who explored brand disruption (and in particular, how to use disruptive communication techniques in order to change attitudes and behaviours). This was useful in that it changed mindsets, but it needed substance to sustain it.

Harvard’s Clay Christensen focused on disruptive technologies (and in his definition, how a new, often simpler, technology can outperform and existing technology over time).  His original theory has been increasingly challenged as too narrow (tech, and product-centric) in recent times.

For me disruption is both of these and much more. It starts with a disruptive mindset – the attitude to question and challenge, the desire to reimagine and reinvent. It follows with a disruptive process – the ability to break and rewrite the rules, to see discontinuities and new possibilities. It is enabled by disruptive technologies – networks that shift power to users, with new capabilities and connections. It is realised through market disruption – new business models that change how businesses work, and new spaces in which value can be created.

Whatever your definition of disruption – reinventing a category, finding new space to compete, reframing brands with a bigger idea, or simply being better or cheaper, faster or smarter than the competition – then its time to start disrupting.

As John Chambers, CEO of Cisco says in the simplest way “Disrupt, or be disrupted“.

Here are 12 simple but effective “disruptors” to get you innovating:

Disruptor 1 >>> Break the rules … inspired by Airbnb’s house sharing, Dollar Shave Club’s low cost subscription service … start by defining the existing rules (conventions, behaviours, regulation), then explore how to “break” and redefine them.

Disruptor 2 >>> Think opposites … inspired by Ugly’s modelling agency, Beats by Dre large headphones … as Edward de Bono said, this is the easiest creative tool … define all the attributes of the market, then reverse them.

Disruptor 3 >>> Unusual combinations … inspired by Apple’s iPad, Beauty’in combines cosmetics and food … Leonardo da Vinci described innovation as this – start by thinking about a paradox, then combine the extremes.

Disruptor 4 >>> Find new audiences … inspired by Zipcar’s on demand for students, Nintendo for seniors … like Blue Ocean Strategy, find unserved customers, and then explore how to be relevant to them.

Disruptor 5 >>> Give it away free … inspired by Skype’s videoconferencing, Spotify’s streaming music … the perfect challenge – if the core product was free, explore how would you make money in other ways.

Disruptor 6 >>> Make it virtual … inspired by Amazon’s Kindle, or Udacity’s online university … digitalise the total experience, be it on mobile or in the cloud, how to remove physical constraints.

Disruptor 7 >>> Reduce complexity … inspired by Twitter’s simple messages, Nest’s smart thermostats … simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, said Steve Jobs – how can you simplify the experience, smarter.

Disruptor 8 >>> Remove a component … inspired by Dyson’s bagless cleaners, Cirque de Soleil’s animal-free circus … eliminate one major aspect, in a way that creates convenience or interest.

Disruptor 9 >>> Border crossers … inspired by BMW iDrive from gaming, Nike Shox from F1 cars … This is my favourite technique, learning from other sectors where consumers already adopt new ideas.

Disruptor 10 >>> Develop the ecosystem … inspired by Nespresso’s pod system, Nike’s iTunes and AppStore … harness the power of networks, a closed (or open) system, connecting partners, suppliers, consumers.

Disruptor 11 >>> Create new business models … inspired by Dollar Shave Club subscription, Netflix personalisation … this can have the most impact, reinventing how the business works – supply and demand, revenue and cost.

Disruptor 12 >>> Go to extremes … inspired by Virgin Galactic’s space travel … big ideas can change the world, but also learning from extremes (like Ford’s breaking system, from NASA Space Shuttle)

More …

Disruption Day

My ”Creative Disruption” Workshop is a high energy and facilitated process of 1-2 days, driven by your big issue, driving more radical ideas and practical innovation.

The best companies increasingly shape their industries in their own vision. They redesign them to their advantage, and even in ways which make it hard for other companies to compete. Jack Welch once said “You need to destroy your own business before somebody else does – to think like to challenger, a start-up, a disruptor”. Whilst disruption is typically overused as a term and under delivered in reality, it can be a powerful approach to strategic thinking, holistic innovation and culture change..


  • To reinvent your business, industry or category
  • To create an mindset and process for creative disruption
  • To develop specific disruptive innovations that will shake-up your market


  • Rule Breakers: rethinking every “rule” (assumption, convention) of your market
  • Rethinking Assets: defining every asset, then exploring how it could be used new ways
  • Border Crossing: applying ideas from other markets and companies (what would Apple do)
  • Accelerated creativity: generating more ideas faster, connecting and stretching them further
  • Rapid evaluation: prioritising the best ideas so far (HML x 4) and making the best better
  • Concept definition: defining each emergent concept, customer and technical specifications
  • Disruptive Impact: evaluating the impact, and planning the where and how for more resonance


  • Idea Generation: More, more radical, more interesting ideas for your future
  • Concept Specification: Clearly defined innovation concepts, ready to make happen
  • Disruption Plan: Not just the “what” but the “when where and how” to disrupt too.


  • Executive team, brand or marketing teams
  • 1-2 day workshop (can be packaged as a high energy “Disruption Day”)


Examples of more Genius Workshops

Disrupt or be disrupted!

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