Looking For Disruptive Ideas?


Game-changing ideas that transform a market are rare. When a business decides to devote significant energy, time and money to the pursuit of true innovation, where does the search for disruptive ideas start?

Disruption may center on a business model, service, or a physical product. Often, disruptive ideas have less to do with invention, than with interpretation. But, what they can redefine is a market’s value proposition, which can lead to the displacement of an earlier business offering or technology.

What attributes define disruptive?

  • Counterintuitive, perhaps contrarian
  • Challenges the status quo
  • Redefines a market’s value proposition
  • Redefines the consumer’s experience
  • Modifies competitive battlefield metrics
  • Connects previously disconnected eco-systems
  • Rewards those who take the initiative and risk

Business and product development are social sciences. There are no laws of nature, and nothing happens with absolute certainty. Yet, with positive leadership, a multi-disciplinary team, ethnography, and a fast-paced, iterative development method, the opportunity to achieve breakthroughs increases significantly.

The best ideas are often fragile. Without senior management’s careful encouragement and willingness to take risk, the search for new ideas may never begin. A development team’s composition is extremely critical and needs to embrace and reconcile innovation’s two schools of thought. The first states value is driven by analytical thinking, which harnesses two forms of logic – deductive and inductive reasoning. With this method, judgment, bias and variation become the antagonist. The second school is centered on creativity and ingenuity. The thinking here is: Great ideas spring from intuition – the art of knowing without reasoning. Highly successful development teams embrace and blend both schools of thought into their product development programs.

For those unfamiliar with ethnography, it is a branch of anthropology which identifies observation methods which focus on, and explore, cultural phenomena from the subject’s viewpoint. Ethnography is a source of disruptive insights. When the goal is understanding your customer, relying on focus groups or online conjoint analysis is a limiting course of action. With ethnography we carefully recruit and interview target consumers. The interviews take place in the environments where the product is used. That might be a home, a hospital pharmacy, police helicopter, or a cattle ranch. Qualitative research yields insights into a consumer’s daily routine, expectations, motivations, and reasons that govern behavior. Artifacts stimulate the conversation – teasing out preferences and negative experiences which uncover valuable latent needs. The insights that are uncovered through ethnography are a product of the cross-functional team’s composition, the structured interviews, and the fact that each interview is customer focused, not customer led. This research approach invariably modifies product assumptions, clarifies usage scenarios and defines how the solution departs from the status quo.

Moving through fast-paced development cycles, 6-8 week sprints, clarifies critical development challenges. It is an iterative, low risk process meant to validate the disruptive idea’s core assumptions. As previously mentioned, it starts with research, then moves to lateral thinking, rapid prototyping, testing, and revising core assumptions. This approach addresses three critical issues. As the team moves through these sprints, the solutions mature, solidify the customer experience, uncover defensible IP, and develop firm product margins.

Rudyard Kipling had it right. “I keep six honest serving-men, they taught me all I knew, their names are what and why, and when and how, and where and who.” The pursuit of game-changing ideas starts with a series of simple questions. Methodical interpretations of the answers grow alternative visions, which challenge conventional wisdom and lead to disruptive products, as well as significant profit and growth.

SoMA, Inc. Stevan Wittenbrock is the founder of SoMA. With more than 30 years of design experience, and a rich history of product innovation, Steve leads a team of highly talented individuals with a shared interest in creating products that are visually elegant, functionally effective and simple to operate. Your SoMA team will be composed of professionals with specialized skill sets to meet your individual objectives. http://somainc.com/wp-content/themes/soma/images/SoMA_Logo_Desktop@2x.png
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