Don’t Predict the Future,
Disrupt It

Henry Ford’s Model T – A Case For Disrupting the Future

Successful innovation is about being able to disrupt the future.

Author and technology and innovation pro Daniel Burrus published a post last month called “Forget Agile and Lean—It’s Time to Be Anticipatory.” He writes:

“To thrive in this new age of hyper-change and growing uncertainty, it is now an imperative to learn a new competency—how to accurately anticipate the future.”

I look at it slightly differently. Success doesn’t come when you anticipate the future per se, it comes when you disrupt it and innovate (or take a performance hacking approach to it, if you will). But either way you slice it, you’re going to take some chances. Around here, we build monitoring tools, which means we’re creating things within an existing market where every player in the game claims to have great technology. For us, the answer lies in predictable innovation, made possible when a product falls into one of three categories:

  1. A successful product is tweaked in a way that expands its user base.
  2. The price becomes affordable to a wider demographic.
  3. The company moves to a new, likely larger market and changes their target audience.

All of these scenarios start with something successful that’s in need of some tweaks, but take the solution one step further, giving people something even better than what they asked for. Tried-and-true examples: Henry Ford and his Model T and the Macintosh computer. Both of these have four key performance hacking principles in common:

  1. They defined a new level of simplicity within an existing market.
  2. They were affordable to a wide audience of buyers.
  3. They chose to innovate in a way that overcame well-known flaws in an existing product—and then innovated some more.
  4. Their product could be sold in a scalable B2B and B2C business model.

Truth is, you don’t have to be the greatest inventor to build a new, disruptive business model. Here’s how we applied these principles to ruxit:

  1. We wanted to sell to both hardcore operations people and the non-hardcore operations crowd, so we built something accessible to all that didn’t require training to use.
  2. Smaller companies have smaller budgets, and enterprise tools require a larger up-front budget, so we created a scalable pricing model that allows everyone to start small and pay for what they need. Instant audience expansion.
  3. Henry Ford’s famous quote, “if I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse,” still stands true today. If we only responded to what users didn’t like about a tool instead of creating something totally new, we’d be missing out on a bigger market. Another perk to targeting a fresh crop of users? Far more forgiving feedback. Try updating a product and seeing what your regular users say. There are bound to be several complaints that their “favorite feature” is no longer available.

What do you think? To innovate, do you need to anticipate the future, disrupt it, or a bit of both?

photo credit: dok1 via photopin cc

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  • Really interesting Alois. I like this calculated approach to innovation. Henry Ford’s quote about customers wanting a faster horse is illustrative of one of the more interesting points about innovation. Some of the most successful companies created products that were completely unanticipated.

    Twitter is what I am thinking of right now mostly because I’m reading Hatching Twitter at the moment. If you tried to describe Twitter to someone ten years ago, most people wouldn’t get it. It was something completely new and foreign to most of us. Granted, you could look at Twitter as a tweak on blogging, which was an already established product at the time, however, it’s a pretty big leap from blogging to the interconnected network that is Twitter.

    My point is that sometimes innovation is pure imagination, the creation of something completely new that no one could anticipate (aside from the individual from whose mind it was birthed). I suppose every product or service solves a problem, but sometimes no one is even aware they have the problem, i.e., the limitation of horse as personal transportation or the lack of a micro-blogging network.

    The success rate with predictable innovation is likely much higher, but I prefer a strategy that also makes room for experimentation and allows for small bets on some speculative ideas.

  • Hello William,

    thank you for the feedback. I like your twitter example. As far as I know they pivoted in the beginning as well from a text service to what they are now. I agree t that the best innovation is to come up with something completely new. Everybody wants this, it is just really hard :-). As you said a good mix of both will eventually the best and most likely to happen.

    My point is that many people have made the experience in their professional live that some service or product can be improved. They want to start a company and they get told that this is not innovative. We had the same thing happen to us entering a market with a lot of competition. Still we see that there is a lot of room for innovation. A very nice side effect that pitching the predictable innovation of your idea comes in and when pitching to investors.

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