Five Critical Mistakes for Disruptive Innovators to Avoid
Disruptors are defined by several characteristics. They see beyond the existing status quo and challenge it by visualizing improvement and the outcome of that solution. Innovators do not provoke anger for its own sake, but they are not afraid to upset the competition or even potential allies. They are pioneering that solution not only to help themselves but also fix an issue that has long been plaguing their industry.
Although these can be seen as positive characteristics, innovators typically have their weaknesses as well. For one, their commitment to a solution is often too zealous for their own good. They develop a kind of tunnel vision, driven so strongly by a belief in their solution that it blinds them to the pushback on their amazing idea. That leaves them vulnerable to criticism and wholly unprepared to defend against the figurative arrows that will inevitably be launched against them.
This lack of preparedness has led to the downfall of many a disruptive innovator. Some succumb to legal assaults because they were naïve to the importance of driving industry opinion to their side in advance of product development. For instance, an innovation such as a new life-saving device or app that provides healthcare price transparency, would need to be truthfully portrayed as accessible and empowering in a novel way long before the product became available. Campaigns that demonstrate their benevolence are critical to success here.
Here are five mistakes innovators make which are serious enough to doom their idea:
- Failing to proactively identify potential impediments to market adoption.
- Not considering the influencers who will motivate the early adopters.
- Overestimating the adoption rate. Or put another way, being oblivious to the level of resistance.
- Not ever considering they will need legal help early on; it’s always sooner than they expect.
- Believing that PR and publicity come after they have achieved their goals.
Innovators can avoid falling into these pitfalls by performing their due diligence on the allies and foes of their company, product, or service. And there are indeed foes out there—entities that will actively work to ensure innovators do not succeed. Foes see innovators as upsetting the balance and a disruption; they are, therefore, dangerous. Researching possible foes is a step that cannot ever be overlooked. Research uncovers how to get into the minds of all stakeholders—even those who would not be in favor of their competition’s expansion.
Keys to mitigating the impact of potential foes include:
- Perform market research on the main target audiences to discover the factors behind acceptance or resistance to adoption. Note: These audiences include the foes. Knowing their perceptions beforehand can provide disruptors a key advantage—foresight.
- Perform key opinion-leader market research that identifies the key target audiences’ influencers. Implementing today’s media methodology—i.e., communicating via influencers and key opinion leaders—allows adoption to happen 10 times faster.
- Use these two tools above and their data to mathematically calculate the size and possible hindrances to adoption. For the target audiences, this would mean estimating the level of effort (e.g., time, money, marketing) required to persuade a segment of the population to reconsider their mindset or to think in a novel way.
Even so, as mentioned previously, litigation is sure to come the innovators’ way. As before, one must be proactive in their legal defense. By taking the following steps, innovators go a long way toward preparing themselves for these aggressive attacks:
- Hire legal counsel that is experienced in disruption up front.
- Research competitors and their standard operating procedures in navigating and crushing early competition. Have the legal firm research public records, lawsuits, etc.; they are very telling.
- Determine all stakeholders and their possible or real resistance, or even overt hostility to change. Which ones could be litigious?
- Make sure all patents, trademarks, service marks, and copyrights are extant or up to date.
- Embark on a public opinion publicity campaign early to warm markets up to change—if possible, one year before a heavy marketing push. Publish stories of goodwill, the history of the founders, market dynamics, and thought leadership pieces regarding the pending change—all to make the solution popular.
- Look for any vulnerabilities to attacks and determine what should be done to shore them up legally and via PR efforts.
- Develop a crisis communications strategy in preparation for lawsuits and slander or libel incidents that can be executed immediately.
There are disruptive innovators that have heeded this advice and reaped the benefits. They have established excellent industry reputations, earned the public trust, and of course, the revenue to match. For example:
InfoBionic, which created a next-generation heart-monitoring device, and outpaced current devices to provide data in near-real time to cardiologists. They demonstrated to cardiologists and heart patients that they could give the doctor more complete data and deliver it faster.
Jeeva Informatics defied the status quo hampering clinical drug trials. Instead of coping with the low level of patient recruitment rates and high rate of dropouts, they created a human-centric software application that puts empathy for the patient first, a novel approach counter to old, inefficient recruitment and retention methods.
Ensurem, an insurance technology and product distribution firm that provides end-to-end solutions for health insurance carriers, realized that Medicare’s ever-growing complexity required Ensurem not only to be a provider but also take on a more proactive role as Medicare consultants by offering plans and guidance throughout the enrollment process. They made this an added service for which they don’t charge clients—and filled a gap that was sorely needed.
Traffk, a cloud-based insurance platform, innovated the life and health insurance industry by enabling agents and customers to transact paperless, instant-issue insurance products, from quote to policy delivery, in minutes, a massive improvement over the old-school pen-and-paper approach used by the big insurance providers. They demonstrated to providers and agents that approval processes did not have to take weeks, allowing them to sell a greater number of superior insurance products.
Because of their innovations, disruptors like these have encountered serious opposition. Some of them have faced industry giants that have filed lawsuits, fighting to grab patent rights to their innovations. But being diligent in their preparations—doing the relevant research and hiring legal counsel early on—has led to a growing number of innovators that are successfully navigating around the pitfalls and continuing to spread their messages of goodwill—garnering influencers, building public trust, and reaping the ROI they deserve for all their efforts.
New and future innovators should be inspired to know that, as daunting as it may seem to succeed in such a hostile environment, with due diligence it is within their power to triumph against even the most aggressive opposition out there.