MT Expert - Innovation: Be more disruptive

You need to tear up that rule book if you're going to be more innovative, says James Trezona

Last Updated: 25 Nov 2010
As Global Entrepreneurship Week draws to a close, the nation’s coffee shops are no doubt full of people looking to create the ‘next big thing’: a product or business model that is really going to shake things up. While there’s no guaranteed formula for business success, if you’re looking to create a game-changer in your industry, the chances are your offering will need to be disruptive.

‘Disruptive’ is a much misunderstood term in management. It doesn’t mean organisational anarchy, letting your staff run wild in the workplace. Disruptive thinking is about bringing a fresh approach to business, aiming not to conform to industry norms but to apply radical ideas to deliver break-through results.

Of course, disruption is nothing new in advertising, but it’s a management philosophy I have encouraged beyond the creative department, to the whole organisation. How does that manifest itself? It’s about doing away with unnecessary systems and structures, creating a flat and accessible management structure where responsibility is vested in individuals rather than imparted via top-down instruction. We’re operating in a post-industrial age where the ‘digital natives’ tend to know more than the ‘digital immigrants’ - a 22-year-old web developer knows more about technology than his or her manager. So as bosses we can’t pretend to have all the answers anymore.

So if your business is looking to be disruptive, you’ll need to liberate it from a rule-based culture to nurture creativity and innovation; retaining a small company ethos is critical as you grow bigger. Prepare to rip up the rule book, turning convention on its head. During a recent client pitch, acknowledging that we were the umpteenth agency of the day to pitch in the same way, with probably similar looking ideas, we suddenly ditched the script and opened a conversation about their business challenges instead. That was a risky strategy, but one that paid off. When we were invited to deliver a presentation on social media at an industry conference this month, we decided to disrupt some myths, rather than stick to received wisdom. It went down a storm.

Thinking disruptively can certainly help innovate. When our technology clients are looking to us for those genius ideas to take new products to market, we know that it’ll take more than a bunch of ‘off the shelf’ marketing tools to deliver. Applying the brightest minds with diverse backgrounds certainly helps: our Director of Digital Delivery started out as a farmer; our Executive Creative Director is a qualified psychotherapist. You just know your brainstorms are going to produce something different with people like that in the process.

If you say you’re disruptive, just make sure you’re actually living and breathing it. Put the spirit of disruption at the heart of not just your products and services, but also how you go about doing business. But avoid being rebels without a cause; make sure you put disruption to good use, solving business challenges for clients and ensuring your company stands out from the crowd. And go easy on the anarchy; being a disruptive entrepreneur doesn’t mean you need to throw your iPad out of the hotel window quite yet…

James Trezona is Managing Director at Mason Zimbler Follow him on Twitter @Masonzimbler

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