Disruptive Thinking – Build solutions for ‘Can Anyone…?’

If you are a startup entrepreneur seeking disruptive opportunities or a company business head looking for disruptive growth, asking a question of a particular ‘format’ has the potential to structure thinking that may lead you to frame disruptive solutions.

Disruptive Innovations have an important characteristic: they expand the market. Such innovations bring solutions to non-consumers who could not previously access them due to some barriers. Some barriers are wealth, access, time and skill.

While the mainframe computers were used primarily in the military, in large universities or big corporations, the PC brought computing power to hundreds of millions of people. Today smartphones and tablets are expected to provide much more to more than a billion people. Similarly the Ford Model-T and later on Japanese process innovations in automobiles reduced the price of automobiles drastically expanding the market. Indian Inventor Arunachalam Murganandam’s low cost sanitary napkins will expand access to lifesaving hygiene to the countless poor Indian women who cannot afford the high quality-high price sanitary pads of Proctor and Gamble. Kickstarter and other Crowdfunding solutions expand the access to early stage funding for startups.

Therefore as a corollary, we can ask the questions in the following format to trigger disruptive thinking –
“Can anyone be able to ?” or “Can anyone ?”


Now the goal of a ‘disruptor’ should be to build a solution that is closer than other incumbent solutions in answering the above question in the affirmative.

Format 1: “Can anyone be able to ?”
Let us try a few examples:
1. “Can anyone be able to purify the water they drink?”
Tata Swach offers purifiers that are much lower than regular water purifiers. Millions more can afford pure drinking water now. It is clearly a step closer than other incumbent solutions in answering the above question in the affirmative.

2. “Can anyone be able to hail a taxi? Or can anyone be able to hail a taxi that arrives in 10 minutes time?”
Uber is closer than other incumbent solutions for an affirmative answer to the question.

3. “Can anyone be able to get food in 15 minutes time?”
Spoonrocket, a food delivery service in San Francisco seems to have accomplished this than other solutions.

4. “Can anyone be able to learn basic economics?”
Anyone with an internet connection can access Khan Academy to learn about a wide range of topics

5. “Can any non-native speaker be able to learn decent French?”
Anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can learn using Duolingo

6. “Can anyone get their nagging doubts answered?”
Quora seems to do a pretty good job at this

7. “Can anyone be able to prove their programming skill and talent?”
TopCoder is a great platform to do just that

8. “Can anyone learn to code?”
Solutions like Codecademy seem to be better than other incumbent solutions in positively answering the question

9. “Can anyone avoid what is called ‘avoidable blindness’?”
Arvind Eye Hospital has done a fabulous job of offering very low cost eye operations to the poor for decades

10. “Can anyone help in fixing software vulnerabilities of Sony?”
Hackerone has a marketplace for just that. Leading companies like Yahoo, Twitter, Airbnb, Dropbox etc. with talented tech employees are among their clients.

Note that the solutions constructed for the above questions need not be of the same quality as incumbent solutions. They just need to be good enough for the new customers or rather the ‘non-consumers’ to get their job decently accomplished.

A word of caution though. Take precautions while framing questions like in question 3 above: “Can anyone be able to get food in 15 minutes time”. It may turn out that not many people would mind if their food does not get delivered in 15 minutes time.

The other question format challenges disruptors to enable anybody to play ‘a role that they could not play before’.

Format 2: “Can anyone ?”
Some examples:
1. “Can anyone be a lender?”
Online Credit Marketplaces like Lending Club and Prosper facilitate this.

2. “Can anyone be an investor in a startup?”
Crowdfunding solutions like Kickstarter have enabled people to back interesting startups like Pebble and Oculus Rift. AngelList works a bit differently. It enables angel investors to form syndicates and together invest in startups with sometimes a minimum buy-in of $1000.

3. “Can anyone be a T-Shirt designer?”
Solutions like Threadless and Teespring enable you to submit and get paid for cool T-Shirt designs.

4. “Can anyone be an activist?”
Change.org has played an important role in many campaigns. It makes it easier for anyone to be an activist. Hundreds and thousands of people have signed petitions demanding change. Take a look here for some of the ‘victories’ – changes that have happened because of Change.org

5. “Can anyone be a hospitality provider?”
Airbnb has built one of the highly valued startups by letting anyone be a hospitality provider.

6. “Can anyone be a teacher?”
Skillshare is a learning community that lets anybody teach their skills to others

7. “Can anyone be a stock trader?”
Robinhood makes it easy for anyone with a smartphone to trade on the stock market.

8. “Can anyone be a driver?”
Carpooling and ridesharing companies like Lyft and Bla Bla car enables anybody with a car to sell driving services
Many of the above solutions have been made possible by leveraging a new technology that incumbent solutions did not.

In a nutshell,
a. Take a look at some task that is being accomplished only by a few people. Challenge if that can be greatly expanded.
b. Take a look at some roles that are played by only a few people. Ask how more people can play that role. How can anyone be a consultant? How can anyone be a financial analyst?

Once you ask the above questions, try to use new technology enablers that have not been used in previous solutions to redesign the business model. Instead of focusing on superior performance, focus on expanding the market – which indirectly means you will have to excel in some other parameter more than you lose out on performance. You may have to excel in increasing affordability, time, access or lowering complexity.

“Can anyone….?” is therefore a very powerful question to ask that will add more structure and the necessary challenge in your quest for building disruptive solutions.

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