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Is your view of disruption holding you back?

Imagine you lived in ancient Rome at the height of the Roman Empire.

One of the most exciting times in history. A time everything was changing at an enormous pace. Where such inventions as paved roads meant you could travel further and faster than ever before. The Romans also invented the aqueduct system allowing water to be transported 100’s of miles. A major disruptive because it had massive ramification for such things as urbanisation, agriculture and sanitation.

Rome, 2000 years ago, was a time when inventions and ideas were disrupting and driving the world. It was a time when you may have been asking yourself ‘what could they possibly think of next?’ And that’s not just rhetoric because one of Rome’s chief engineers, Sextus Julius Frontius, is known as saying ‘Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I 
see no hope for further development.’

Now imagine you live during the industrial age.

One of the greatest times of change in human history. A time when things were changing faster than ever before. A time when you’d wake in the morning and find another factory built down the road from where you lived. It was a time when great ideas disrupted the very fabric of society. Henry Ford’s idea of the mass production line influenced industry and commerce forever. It was also a time when a gentleman named Thomas Edison had one of the most brilliant ideas in history. The light bulb. Such a brilliant idea that it’s image has become symbolic of ideas themselves. What an exciting time to live.

But you and I live in today’s world, which is surely one of the most exciting times in history because we live in a time of great change and massive disruption, where things such as smartphones, social media and all forms of digital technology are disrupting and shaping our world. Yet when you think about it, that’s no different to any other time in history apart from the fact that we now label it as ‘disruption’ and the world of business has become obsessed with the very idea of it.

But is our view of ‘disruption’ impeding us from achieving it?

Roads, aqueducts, production lines, light bulbs, smartphones and social media are all game changes. No doubt about it because each changed the world. Yet in those very examples lies a problem with disruption because if it is seen as big, paradigm shifting, one off, expensive, risky and hard to keep doing then it is viewed as unachievable for most.

But what if disrupting an industry is a game of inches? What if it could happen in small steps, incrementally?

John McGrath didn’t build one of the world’s best (if not the best) real estate companies by reinventing the real estate industry, he did it by being obsessed with constantly improving and doing everything better than everyone else. Toyota didn’t invent the motorcar but they disrupted the industry through their philosophy of Kaizen (constant improvement) and by innovating on a small scale, again and again and again.

To be groundbreaking doesn’t mean you need a massive earth mover to disturb tons of dirt because you can break ground one clod at a time. To disrupt you don’t need to invent the next iPhone, you just need to do something no one else has never done or do something in a way or do it better than anyone else has done before.

So we need to expand our view of disruption from being one of ‘big’ and ‘out of reach’ to one of being ‘consistent steps’ and ‘achievable’.

What if you focus on doing the little things better than everyone else and work hard at finding innovative ways of improving things? What if you seek clever, new avenues of revenue, or focus hard on finding gaps within your market and your own processes. And if you keep doing that, maybe, just maybe one day you will notice you have disrupted your industry one step at a time.

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