How to be the disrupter, not the disrupted, by answering one question.

That moment

It’s that moment when you realize that your product or service is no longer relevant. All that work to out maneuver competitors by maintaining market position, customer satisfaction and an enviable distribution model – gone. Someone, or something, came out of nowhere and made everything go away. Think Blockbuster, Blackberry or newspapers.

There are hundreds of MBA papers written about how each were too slow to shift in a rapidly changing market. But could these companies have seen it coming? Innovation is inevitable. Were they doomed from the beginning?

Customer research to improve is great. But customers can’t tell you what they don’t know. Henry Ford once commented that if he had asked people what they wanted before inventing the motorized car, they would have said faster horses.

Can being a disrupter like Netflix or Apple be attributed only to the first mover position and being unencumbered by an established business model? I think no.

There is one question that every leader should ask themselves. It’s the most simple thing in the world.

What is my commodity?

That’s it. One simple question. In the case of Blockbuster they would have probably answered VHS and DVD movies in local stores. But that’s the wrong answer. Their commodity was distributing video content. It sounds similar but is very different. Labeling themselves as a distributor of video content means they should have been looking for different ways to distribute their commodity. Who knows, they could have been the first YouTube or Brightcove.

And make sure you boil it down to one ingredient when you answer that question. You’re doing it wrong if you find you have alphabet soup.

With this one question, you can disrupt your own business model… before someone else does.

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