How Small Business Managers Can Leverage Disruptive Thinking for Improvement

This is part two of a three-part series on disruptive thinking. In part one, we provided an overview of why disruptive thinking is an important component of small business management. Here we provide tips for managers looking to tap into the power of disruptive thinking. In part three, we will show you how to instill a culture of disruptive thinking among your employees.

Disruptive thinking is somewhat of misnomer because disruptions are typically perceived as a negative. When you think about something being disruptive as it relates to small business management, you probably think about the internet going down, colleagues talking loudly within earshot or noisy road construction.

And although the intended result of disruptive thinking is positive change, the fact that we need to first disrupt a familiar circumstance to achieve a good result is what makes disruptive thinking difficult. But that’s the way it is. It is impossible to make progress without disrupting the status quo.

In their book Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne discuss the four hurdles managers encounter when trying to initiate organizational change. Among the hurdles is motivation. Ultimately, both managers and employees have to want to make the change. This can be easier said than done.

Managers may not be receptive to employee-initiated ideas because they cannot empathize with the pains of the job, and employees may push back on management-led initiatives because they don’t feel included in organizational goals. When promoting innovation and change, someone needs to ensure goals align from top to bottom. But who?


Take the disruptive thinking lead


As a small business manager, you probably have the power to change your organization’s policies and employee hierarchy with a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse. But changing entrenched corporate culture is much harder than simply changing policy.

It is necessary, however.

And to ensure new ideas are encouraged and the best ones are ultimately put into action, someone has to take responsibility for making it happen. If you’re the small business manager, that someone is you. Take it upon yourself to be the small business/innovation manager.


Declare your business imperfect, and open for ideas


As a small business manager, you have a high-level overview of what goes on at your company. Your employees, however, have a granular, detailed view of what it takes to perform their jobs because they are the ones sweating the details daily. They can offer fantastic insight you’re not privy to.

At some companies, employees are hesitant to share new ideas because “rocking the boat” has gotten others in trouble. Hogwash. Encourage your employees to think disruptively and share anything that might be helpful.

Reward them when their ideas either create efficiencies, lead to a positive policy change or help your business capitalize on new technology. Employee buy-in is exponentially easier when they feel like they’re part of the process.


Be the example of disruptive thinking


Asking your employees to do something you’re not willing to do yourself is a surefire way to get pushback, or worse, apathy. Show your employees you are trying to understand what they are dealing with. In the 90s, scared New Yorkers were calling the city’s subway system the, “electric sewer.” To better understand why, and to determine how to fix the problem, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton made his top staff – including himself – ride the subways day and night like everyone else. Some businesses require managers to take calls from disgruntled customers.

Showing that you are willing to dive into the trenches with your staff is a great way to display your commitment to understanding and improvement – and it’s a great way to motivate your employees to commit as well.


Next, in the third and final part of the disruptive thinking series, we’ll show you how to promote a culture of disruptive thinking among your employees.



Ready for more disruptive thinking? Learn how expense reporting affects every part of your business, and why shouldn’t wait to be asked to fix it.


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