1. Maintain a ‘grow the pie’ mindset
I’ve often found that the term ‘disruption’ inspires binary behaviours. Entrepreneurs are often doing the disrupting and if they are not creating an entirely new product category they perceived to be people determined to dismantle or reorganise an industry.
If, on the other hand, you are part of an industry being disrupted, there’s a good chance you’ll be part of an effort to defend value that’s been created.
There are few winners in this scenario.
The alternative is maintaining a ‘grow the pie’ mindset. This might not remain the prevailing mindset as the business grows but if you don’t start this way, you will miss insight that will be important to the future success of your business model.
2. Find the talkers
I have learned a significant amount as a beginner by listening to people who just wanted to talk.
And there are few people who love to talk more about their work than veterans whose livelihood is a byproduct of their standing in their industry.
They have such conviction in their industries future that they will speak from a place of authority that at times can be borderline condescending.
I’ve found these people to quite happily lay out playbooks and existing processes in meticulous detail. For the most part, they are happy to do this because they do not view you as any kind of threat.
3. Identify canaries in the mine
The analogue of a canary in a mine are people who become allies and advisors to your business.
They are also industry veterans. They may have moved on or they may still be trying to champion change internally. In any case, they are prepared to be honest about the innovation their industry could enjoy and benefit from.
They also know what needs to change and will provide early warning if you’re headed towards it. I can think of eight people who played these roles for Opher and me at AirShr. They were invaluable then and we’re good friends today.
4. Beware of the surface layer
Every business in every industry, old or new, presents an element of spin. In other words, what you see on the surface through websites, PR and initial meetings might appear elegant and well-organised but it’s important not to accept what you see on the surface.
Every business also has an engine room. It’s where design and manufacturing take place or where paperwork is processed. It’s where manual work is done. And it’s where entrepreneurs’ solutions become more complicated than originally expected.
Always look for the engine room from the beginning. It will save you an enormous amount of future lost time.
5. Look for transition incentives
These aren’t the incentives for the future. They are catalysts that will help people gain the conviction needed to move from today’s environment to the tomorrow’s paradigm.
This is probably one of the most difficult problems for entrepreneurs to solve. That’s because from the outset it’s hard to understand the relationships between all the incentives in play.
I’ve found that determining the financial and cultural incentives of people in organisations to be relatively straightforward. It’s the systems-level incentives which are often complex. In media, for example, there are relationships between content creators, agencies, distributors and advertisers that are opaque and ever-changing. The same is true for other mature industries.
The point is that continuously mapping and probing for transition incentives is an essential part of shifting a paradigm.
6. Have mentors
This is essential and I talk about it a lot (like here
). The punchline: Don’t go it alone.