Small business owners, is it time for a little disruption?

A thought-provoking Harvard Business Review blog post came to my attention yesterday via Twitter. In “Disrupt Yourself,” Whitney Johnson, who left a cushy, seven-figure Wall Street analyst job to become an entrepreneur, talks about the power of disruption and how it can be applied to your life.

Disruption, in a business context, happens when a cheaper product or service transforms an industry. In a TED talk on this same topic, Johnson uses Netflix as one example; when they came along they completely transformed the video rental industry.

Johnson, in both the blog post and the TED Talk encourages us to apply the same theory to our lives and, I would suggest, also to our small businesses.

What Netflix did to Blockbuster is called “disruptive innovation,” a term coined by Clayton Christensen in his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. Johnson writes that in his research, Christensen found that “firms seeking growth via new markets are six times more likely to succeed than firms seeking growth by entering established markets and the revenue opportunity is 20 times greater.” That’s powerful stuff, isn’t it?

So my question to you is, have you ever disrupted yourself? Or have looked at your industry and considered how you could disrupt it?

In her TED Talk, Johnson gives the example of the founder of ShabbyApple.com. This young woman who was forced to become an entrepreneur because health problems made it impossible for her to hold down a regular 9 to 5 job. Without knowing anything about clothing design or how the fashion business works, she developed her online dress business in a way that eliminated the middleman and dramatically cut costs. She expects to have revenues of $3 million this year.

Johnson offers five suggestions on how to disrupt yourself in the TED Talk. They can be applied equally to a small business as well as to individuals. Speaking as someone who has disrupted herself several times, I highly recommend both the blog post and the TED Talk.

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