There is so much energy around the concept of disruption—it’s quite disrupting.

It’s not a new concept. It’s been around since the invention of the wheel. But here’s the most important thing to know about disruption: It is NOT a destination or an endgame. It’s a mindset.

Disruption as a Mindset

Disruption is not about a new way of doing something, like cars replacing the horse and buggy or digital cameras trumping film. The key determiner of a true disruptor is the ability to continue to disrupt, to embrace innovation as a core competency. It’s not the achievement of an iteration of a product, service, or technology; rather, it’s about being able to maintain a steady cadence of disruption over time.

Sears is the great disruptor—of 1896—with a catalog business touting more merchandise under one roof than ever before, and offering a rewards program as well as a 100% money back guarantee, something completely unheard of at the time. Sears was the quintessential retail trailblazer and remained untouched for years.

Sound familiar? It should because it was basically the original version of Amazon.

The Disruption of Retail

In 1995, Amazon became THE online retailer, offering more merchandise under the same virtual roof, as well as perks for customer loyalty (Prime) and a 100% money back guarantee.

Jeff Bezos, now the world’s richest man, has completely disrupted retail. He created a seismic shift in the way people shop and buy and permanently changed the retail game—not unlike Sears. So what was the difference? Why is Amazon continuing to be seen as an innovator, a disruptor? Because the innovations are pouring out of Bezos and his team as they continue to shake up the status quo. Bezos demands disruption from everyone in his business. Whether it’s the Prime membership model or drone delivery, Amazon is the perfect example of a company that has adopted disruption as a core competency and continues to do it, over and over and over again.

Sears killed disruption and then went stale. No new innovation, no fresh ideas to draw in or keep customers until the retailer basically ended up on a respirator.

If Sears disrupted the way Amazon has, there may not have been an Amazon. Sears may have been Amazon. But they didn’t. Their downfall came from three things:

  1. Denial: They hid from reality, not wanting to believe they could become obsolete.
  2. Insularity: Leaders didn’t want to hear bad news.
  3. Paralysis: Sears didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon.

Today, Amazon is held up as the model to follow. The company continues to expand not just products and services, but also how they get to you! They’re like an innovation sensation. I mean, stock evaluations like theirs have never been seen before in history. Sears lost steam while Amazon builds it up at every turn.

Being a disruptor is no small feat. The best disruptors, like Amazon, have found the secret sauce in the form of the following areas:

  • Being Purpose Obsessed—Ask yourself: What is our purpose and what are we willing to give up to remain true to it?
  • Entrepreneurial Culture—Ask yourself: Are we empowering our team members, at every level, to bring their best ideas and innovations to the table, and are our leaders willing to listen?
  • Unique Customer Experience—Ask yourself: Are we making business decisions based on what the customer wants and needs or based on what we, as a business, want and need?

Let me know if your business is asking these questions today, and if not, why? Is there willingness, or will yours be the next company to need a respirator, or even worse, a mortician? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because business is good today. You’re a target. However, you know what they say about moving targets. Plain and simple—you must be purpose obsessed, have an entrepreneurial culture, and provide a unique customer experience in order to disrupt before you are disrupted.

I wonder what the next 100 years will bring for Amazon. Will they continue to disrupt, or will they be the next Sears? What do you think?

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