Got a Random Brilliant Thought?

By Jane Haskin

Luke Williams’ Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business challenges businesspeople to change the way they do things. But we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? Open your mind, the cliché goes, and kick your creativity into high gear. Success is sure to follow. Only it doesn’t always work out that way, does it?

What’s different about Disrupt is that Williams, an NYU Stern School of Business-based educator, speaker and innovation strategist who presented his ideas last February at the ABA National Conference for Community Bankers in Boca Raton, Fla., offers readers a methodology for turning their random brilliant thoughts into honest-to-goodness action plans. That’s worth the price of admission—and more.

We bankers are prime candidates for this sort of step-by-step approach. We work in, let’s say, a mature industry—but it’s an industry that’s facing unprecedented disruption. Technology—the Internet—is slapping us in the face and yelling at us to wake up. Meanwhile, brass-and-walnut traditionalists pine for the old ways because they’ve been so successful for so long. In theory, we all know that innovation is the foundation of the American dream. But some bankers don’t want to acknowledge we’re being innovated out of our socks. Williams gives us the help we need.

“To start moving in a new direction, you need to kick hard against what’s already there,” he says. Through his “five stages of disruptive thinking,” Williams turns a kick into a process that can work in any organization. Even a bank. Here are the five stages of disruptive thinking:

  • Craft a disruptive hypothesis
  • Define a disruptive market opportunity
  • Generate several disruptive ideas
  • Shape them into a single, disruptive solution
  • Make a disruptive pitch that will persuade internal or external stakeholders to invest or adopt what you’ve created

The chapters in Disrupt expand on these five stages and guide the reader all the way from crafting a hypothesis to formulating a persuasive pitch. The process will work just as well for big banks with large product development departments as for community banks with only a few employees.

Williams encourages the would-be disruptor to develop a hypothesis that offers an unreasonable provocation. Here’s an example. Let’s say I make cellphones. They need power, so I put batteries in them. A way to improve the performance of a cellphone is to make the battery more and more efficient.

An example of an unreasonably provocative idea about cellphones is to imagine one that doesn’t need a battery at all. Bizarre, you say? For Williams, no idea is too bizarre. In fact, the more bizarre the idea, the greater potential it has for disruption.

Now comes the hard part. The process of transforming your great idea into a successful new business or product. Here’s how. Use your disruptive hypothesis as a source for defining an disruptive market opportunity. Then develop three or four disruptive ideas that address that opportunity, and hone those ideas into a single solution. To get there, you need to focus on what’s best for your customers. If you’re creating a product just for the sake of creating a product, and you skip the task of vetting it against customer expectations, you’re destined to fail. So Williams goes into quite a bit of detail here, addressing the nuances of market research and product development.

An interesting idea is that the best market research involves just a few exemplary customers rather than a massive focus group. That’s an approach tailor-made for small banks.

But what’s the use of developing a great, disruptive solution if you don’t know how to convince your bosses that it’s great and disruptive? Disrupt’s final chapter is about developing a nine-minute presentation to sell your stakeholders on your idea. Nine minutes doesn’t sound like much, but research proves that if a presentation lasts more than 10 minutes, you’ll lose your audience. So make those nine minutes the best nine minutes of your life.

Disrupt is for people who want to explore new ideas for doing business today’s transformational marketplace. The emphasis is on ideas that work not only for customers but for business and stakeholders.

Jane Haskin is president and CEO of First Bethany Bank, based in Oklahoma City.