Disrupting the Status Quo

Disrupters take different paths to success.

December 20, 2011

In business, what happens when you go against the grain and take chances for a project or idea you believe in? Sometimes it can pay off in a big way.

Fast Company highlights several “disrupters,” who have each taken different paths to success in their field. Some common themes stand out:

• Take chances. James Dyson, founder and CEO of Dyson, says it’s important to try things, even if it seems like they won’t work. He says he made 5,127 prototypes of the bagless vacuum before he perfected it. “No one has the right answer at the beginning.”

• Be unique. Monique Pean runs a high-fashion, eco-friendly jewelry company. When she started the company, she says, eco-friendly didn’t mesh with high-fashion.

Then photos of First Lady Michelle Obama wearing some of Pean’s jewelry surfaced, and her business took off. Today people do care where their products come from so her business works, she adds.

In the sports arena, Dhani Jones, a former NFL player, made waves when he reported from the sidelines wearing a bow tie in honor of a friend with cancer. In wearing the bow tie, he says he re-established the notion of being a gentleman for himself.

Now, his nonprofit Bow Tie Cause “uses the four corners of the bow tie to exemplify these things—self-representation, service, collaboration, and critical thought."

• Fulfill a need. David Karp, CEO/founder of Tumblr, began designing the online photo blogging site, as a neater, more organized, and more accessible version of “tumblelogs,” HTML pages of poorly-structured but interesting content. Then, tumblelog users hopped on Tumblr.

“Because they really understood what Tumblr was about, they set a great example for new users,” says Karp. “That helped us get a lot of early traction.”

• Believe in your idea. Maryam Banikarim, senior vice president/chief marketing officer at Gannett, designed a special line of Moleskine notebooks with sketches of great ideas for employees to celebrate the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal—ideas such as a note about Saturday Night Live on the back of a napkin or the cable transponder that became the heart of Comcast.

These ideas matched a purpose line she also innovated: that NBC is in the idea business. While many doubted her project would be approved, it was ultimately a great success.

• Adapt when necessary. Tony Salvador, an ethnographic researcher at Intel was part of the team who developed the Classmate PC, an education tablet computer specifically created for India.

When management rejected the idea for distribution in India because it lacked a keyboard (because scripts in India don’t adapt to keyboards easily), the company sold the PC worldwide instead. “The Classmate PC was not exactly what we wanted it to be, but it still had value,” says Salvador.