In a competitive global marketplace, real success hinges on much more than just getting the job done. To outcompete larger, better funded, and better connected businesses and to establish yourself as an industry leader, you’ll need to change the game. You’ll need to become a disruptor.
Doing this isn’t necessarily about how big your research and development team is. Instead, it’s about how your business operates and evolves on a fundamental level. Unlike their larger competitors, SMEs tend to be flexible and tolerant to change. Th research and development is gives them an edge that they can use to spearhead rapid change, despite their relative disadvantage in terms of resources. Emphasising this strength, and finding ways to capitalise on it, is key.
Find and address big business blind spots
Bigger businesses have massive bureaucracies designed to keep everyone organised and working together with minimal waste. This makes businesses less agile, because research and development needs to be planned out well in advance, and needs to improve products and services in a predictable way. Furthermore, they have a strong incentive to make progress backward-compatible in terms of the production process.
For example, a battery manufacturer might look for a way to improve their product’s efficiency, but, instead of starting from scratch, they’d prefer options that allowed them to use their existing factory and equipment instead over those that required them to invest in all new custom equipment. This leaves a massive opening for smaller businesses that don’t have these enormous sunk costs to contend with.
As a smaller business that hasn’t scaled its operations up yet, you can experiment with and solve problems that much larger companies can’t even consider addressing in a practical or cost-effective way. Go out of your way find these blind spots, and you can effect major change in a relatively low-competition arena.
Build a flexible and innovative company culture
Disruptive innovation doesn’t have to come from management, or from a dedicated research team. Research and development departments are great, but they’re also difficult for smaller businesses to afford. To deal with this, smaller businesses can compensate by working to develop a general culture of innovation that allows them to pool the specialised knowledge of their entire company instead of relying on a dedicated team of developers.
Encourage employees at every level to educate themselves about your industry, and to acquire the specialised knowledge they need to effectively identify problems and innovate solutions. Incentivise learning, and recognise and reward solutions-oriented thinking. Further, your employees need to feel motivated and empowered enough to share their ideas. To facilitate that, it’s a good idea to create a formal process by which anyone can submit problems that they think should be addressed, or solutions to a known issue.
Bring in experts from other industries
Don’t restrict yourself to working with people from within your own industry. Every industry typically comes with its own school of thought regarding how it should progress, and what the next great breakthroughs should look like. Having these industry experts at your disposal is invaluable, but it’s not the best way to take competitors by surprise. If you’re looking for a game changer, you’ll need people who haven’t been taught to look at the issues you’re working to resolve the same way that everyone else in the industry has.
Of course, that doesn’t mean hiring a landscaper to develop accounting software. Instead focus on acquiring people in the right field who have different industry backgrounds and who might bring something interesting to the table. A former game developer, for example, might bring some strange and interesting new ideas to a brainstorming meeting about accounting software development.
Watch your competitors
You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to make a big splash. Often, you’ll find that a competitor has already started on a great idea, and simply failed to see and properly exploit its potential. All that needs to be done is for someone to step in and perfect it. The classic example of this approach is Steve Jobs and Apple, who applied a variety of older technologies and ideas to create some of their most iconic products.
New ideas often aren’t exploited to their full potential, or don’t work well because they haven’t been paired with other complementary innovations. If you make a point of examining the innovations of your competitors and considering their potential in context with your own ideas, you may be able to put together something entirely new and better than the sum of its parts.
Becoming successful as an industry leader and pushing boundaries in a meaningful way in a globalised economy requires transformative innovation and radical change. Given the right innovative environment, a flexible attitude toward change, and outside-the-box thinking, any business can spearhead a disruptive transformation in an industry. There’s no good reason it can’t be your business!