Need to Innovate? How rule-breakers use ignorance as strategy

They call themselves 10x organisations and they’re disrupting industries around the world. The criteria to become one is your ability to do something ten times faster, or ten times cheaper, than the old dinosaurs (and sometimes both, as was the case when Space-X launched a shuttle into space ten times faster and ten times cheaper than NASA).

This new breed of innovative organisations is finding strategic ways to break rules and bypass expected norms, and the results are often staggering. How could you emulate them?

There are plenty of clever approaches to strategic rule-breaking. The first, though, is the most painstakingly simple: use ignorance strategically.

Unique thinking and an entrepreneurial advantage may be found in ignorance. You’ve possibly encountered the aphorism, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Similarly, to a banker, for instance, the only imaginable approach to banking is “the way banking has always been done”. When bankers try to think of new ways of banking, they typically don’t think of different ways. Instead, they tend to think of even greater complexity. In other words, they assume a base point fashioned after the way things have traditionally been done, and then try to add on to that.

 

Along came PayPal

PayPal is a global, online payment system. If I want to make a payment to somebody in Iceland or Tahiti, or vice versa, the quickest and simplest way to do it is to use PayPal.

In the April 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review, Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of PayPal and a modern-day tech-billionaire, said, “All the banking people knew the rules. That prevented them from trying anything that looked remotely like PayPal.”

It’s an interesting point.

PayPal was not invented by a bank, just as Uber was not invented by a taxi driver.

The people within these industries tend to be so thoroughly marinated in their own rules and norms – so caught up in the momentum of how things are done – that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to even imagine a different way of doing things. They lose sight of the core needs they serve and focus instead on the machinery of their own business.

To make use of this strategy, you require something a little unusual: you need two opposing forces. The opposing forces are:

1. Extreme clarity on the goal.

2. A vague and underdeveloped sense of “the way things have always been done”.

You need to see a problem as an outsider would. You need to see the pain and frustration caused by a need, but you also need to not be tainted by the way in which that need has traditionally been solved. You need to not know what the rules are.

Try this thought-exercise:

Gather a group of strategic thinkers and set the rule:

“The traditional way of doing it has been outlawed. How else might we serve the same need?”

Or alternatively:

“We are now our competitors. We have half the budget, but our hearts and souls are invested in one purpose: to topple the original company! We can’t do it the way they do it. So how could we go about it?”

Or even:

“The company has burnt to the ground. We’ve lost everything. We need to keep serving our customers but we need a new, cheap, fast way to do it right now that doesn’t rely on any equipment or systems we used before. What have you got?”

Asking people to step out of their own worldview and imagine themselves as the competitor can be powerful. It spurs a very different kind of thinking.

Another way to enact this principle could be to import thinking from outsiders. How would your mother-in-law solve this problem? And your six-year-old? How about your tattoo artist?

Bypassing the rules through intentional ignorance implies the kind of thinking that typically starts with the phrase “What if we just …?”

 

•   “What if we just bypassed the entire …?”

•   “What if we just used a …?”

•   “What if we just cut out the old …?”

•   “What if we just used this instead?”

 

If you don’t know the rules in the first place, your thinking won’t be bogged down by them. Use ignorance as a source of creative thinking and you might just discover the innovation that sets you apart. What would happen in your world if you started with a need, then ignored the way that need has traditionally been serviced, utilising advantageous ignorance?

You could end up disrupting an entire industry. And why not? They’re your rules after all. You can break them.

 

Douglas Kruger specialises in dismantling needless rules. A business speaker and author of 5 books with Penguin Random House, including ‘They’re Your Rules, Break Them!’ he presents locally and internationally on the topic of disruptive innovation and how to reduce your own rules in order to achieve it. Douglas is also a multiple award-winning speaker, who was inducted into the ‘Speakers Hall of Fame’ in 2016. See him in action at www.douglaskruger.co.za. 

 

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