In the world of start-ups and new businesses, it’s no longer enough to simply make your mark on an industry - you need to “disrupt” it. Disruption is Exciting! It’s New! It’s Better!! Disruption could mean anything from thumbing your nose at traditional delivery and operations models, to applying concepts from another industry, to changing how money is made and how the market is served.

Until the advent of Napster, YouTube and other sharing platforms, musicians needed a record label with a torturous seven year contract to become well-known and profitable. The last twenty years have been a time of wild disruption in the music industry, with stars like Justin Bieber hurtling into the public consciousness (and right through its wallet) thanks to viral video and internet sensation. While this may have reduced record sales significantly, it’s released the listening public from spoon-fed music genres and opened up a world of variety. Today, you can support your favourite artists with tools like Patreon (more disruption!), which allow us to contribute directly to the artists we value the most.

We’re currently experiencing intense disruption in the financial services industry as well, with the arrival of online providers such as robo-advisors, advice-only financial planners, and branchless banks. Canadian banks are facing heavy backlash over sketchy sales tactics just at the same time that we are gaining access to different services on different platforms.

Disruption can be fantastic. But is disruption in and of itself the goal? In some cases, disruption can end up being more about the ego of the business owner than about improving the lives of the people being served. If you’re considering disrupting your industry, ask yourself: Do my customers really want to have their lives disrupted in this particular way? Because it’s never, ever, about you.

Disruption can pit companies against each other, often to the detriment of the market they serve. In a winner-take-most scenario, business owners become suspicious and fearful, scared that they will lose market share. Fear and suspicion begin to seep into their company culture, into conversations with customers, and finally throughout the entire industry. Customers experience the distrust and apply it to the industry as a whole. Value is lost. Commoditization follows as everyone competes on price, and a race to the bottom rings the death toll of what was once a lively and booming industry.

Disruption can be exciting, but it can also be incredibly harmful if applied incorrectly. Want to disrupt in a healthy way? We’d like you to consider disrupting… through collaboration.

We’re all better when we work together. You need to have the right teammates, of course. Even in collaboration with the best of intentions, things can go sideways. Take the finance industry’s self-regulating organizations for instance, which in some cases have banded industry participants together to protect themselves, as opposed to the people they serve.

You need teammates who share your values, and value your customers. By working with the right people to disrupt an industry, the industry becomes stronger, more work is created for everyone, customers receive better service and products - and keep coming back for more. A sustainable business is one that is in a sustainable industry, with customers who value it.

Build your Collaboration team

That’s all fine and good, Admin Slayer, you may be thinking, but how exactly do I create effective collaboration? We’re so glad you asked!

  • Keep the focus on the customer. Your disruptive collaboration should make their lives better.
  • Don’t assume that anyone else cares about your collaboration beyond the value it creates for the customer. Skip the lame press releases. Drop your ego. Nobody cares.
  • Talk about values. A lot. Write them down. Show them to people. Show them to each other. All the time.
  • Create space for everyone to make money, to learn, and to grow.
  • Always leave a door open for collaborators to exit without anyone getting upset.
  • Treat formal business partnerships like a marriage:
    • What does everyone need from the partnership? How will you deliver it?
    • How will you handle the inevitable disagreements?
    • Talk about values (again) and feelings - regularly.
    • Who will be in charge of what decisions?
    • How will each party exit gracefully?

Your competition can also be your team. If we remove fear and suspicion, replacing it with shared values, hard work, and a focus on your customer, it can take an industry (and your business) into the stratosphere.