It should come as no surprise that many would-be entrepreneurs are trying to figure out how to create an innovative business by doing what everyone else is doing already.
There’s a good reason for that.
It’s because when they look at other businesses, all they see are solutions.
Pick any business you like. What you see is that business owner's solution to a problem. What you don’t see is the problem that that enterprise solves. In order to find out what it is, you have to look for it.
For example, why are there so many different supermarket chains?
Or why is there more than one automobile manufacturer?
Why, for instance, are there so many different kinds of breakfast cereals or cookies in the stores?
In fact, why is there so much variety of anything?
It’s because each product solves a problem that the others don’t.
It’s been suggested that one way to find a problem to solve is to read 30 books in your niche or to buy the products of your competitors so that you can identify the gaps that exist and create a solution of your own. But for that idea to be effective, you still have to think in terms of unsolved problems.
In other words, if all you do is evaluate the solutions of others, then at best yours will contain a large measure of everyone else’s.
Disrupting the status quo
Ronald Reagan once said that the status quo “is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.”
Another way to think about this is to recognize that the status quo is what is most vulnerable to disruption. That’s because it’s not only dated, but it’s predictable.
Have you ever visited someone’s house where the bathroom sink had knobs that were typical of the 1970s, or carpet that reminded you of your childhood, or wallpaper that reminded of your grandparents’ house?
Or how about bell-bottom pants and flowered, blousy shirts, or mini-skirts. When was the last time you saw these things worn in abundance?
What about cars?
Of all the models that have been made over the years, relatively few have a body style that marks them as classics. The rest look dated, and are traded-in. The irony is that most cars made in the past ten years at least were built to last for a long time, and yet, millions of new ones are sold every year.
Why is that?
It’s not because the cars are unreliable or even because comparatively few customers can afford to change them so often. Instead, it’s because people have become used to them, and they want something newer.
The status quo is also predictable.
Reliability in some things is important, but when you know that things can’t get any better even though your needs have changed, then that’s when you start to look for another solution; one that is relevant now.
This is extremely important for entrepreneurs because it’s their ability to anticipate the needs of their customers that keeps them in business.
And that leads to one of the most widely held myths on the planet. It’s the one that says that “it’s a form of insanity to do the same thing day after day and expect a different outcome.”
When people make this claim, they’re assuming that their behavior - doing the same thing ad infinitum - will always produce the same result; but in order for that to be true, all the other things it touches have to be stable, and you know that they’re not.
Take something as simple as weight control. The average person, whoever that is, gains about one pound (or half a kilo) per year from the age of about 18.
Why is that?
It’s because they don’t change their eating habits. In other words, they do the same thing day after day. In order for the myth to be true, their weight would have to remain more or less the same through their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc as a result of eating the way they did when they were 18. And we know that that simply isn’t the case.
Nearly everyone gains weight as they get older.
So in order to maintain the status quo, they actually have to eat differently because eating the same way day after day gives them a different result, not the same one. This is a surprise to many people.
How to disrupt your niche
Because the status quo is most vulnerable to disruption, you have to make sure that you’re not relying it. That is, you have to figure out how to disrupt your niche before someone does it for you.
You see, you can either ride the disruption wave, or drown trying to swim against it.
So how do you disrupt your niche. You do what all other disruptors do: You make the status quo irrelevant.
That’s what David did. He disrupted Goliath’s life.
How did he do this?
He changed the rules of engagement. The problem, as he saw it, was how to defeat the enemy; not how to defeat him with the standard weaponry of the day.
If you’re struggling to come up with an innovative approach, then you need to think about the war you’re fighting.
Are you fighting one where you’re simply copying everyone else, or are you creating a game that only you can win?
Questions like that may seem theoretical, even philosophical; but if you’re going to disrupt your niche, then you have to learn to ask questions that no one else asks, even if they seem absurd or abstract.
Novelists, for example, advance their stories by asking, “What if?”
“What if this character does X instead of Y, as everyone expects him to?”
That’s what you have to do.
Entrepreneurs have been doing this for decades, and not just offline.
Have you ever received a really valuable freebie - a PDF, or a recording, or some software that was better than you thought it would be? The question asked beforehand by the person who gave it to you was “What if I gave some of my best value away for free?”
And what has happened? The quality of free items has risen steadily, as you no doubt have noticed.
A few cheat sheets just doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to give something of real value in order to persuade someone to provide their email address to you, and even then, you might get nothing more than a throwaway address.
Why is that?
It’s because the expectations of potential subscribers have increased. Someone decided to play by different rules and disrupted the status quo.
What is there about your niche that feels like the status quo?
What is everyone else doing?
What are they saying?
And what questions do you need to ask that no one else does?
Make it goal to identify the mess that your niche is in, and then disrupt it.