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Quick Reference Guide


This is an excerpt from the book Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business (FT Press), by Luke Williams. Published here with permission of the author.



Process Summary

My aim in writing this book has essentially been to convince you that the attitude, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the enemy of disruptive thinking. It’s more
effective to start by identifying something in your business that’s not necessarily a problem, in a place where others wouldn’t expect to look. In other words, think about what usually gets ignored, pay attention to what’s not obvious, and start with things that ain’t broke. Then go about methodically breaking them down by following the steps I laid out.


This guide is intended as a fast, practical reference point for those steps. It outlines 3 questions for each stage of the Disrupt process, and the actions required for the answers.

Crafting a Disruptive Hypothesis

Objective: To generate three deliberately unreasonable “what if” questions that will enable you to break through the boundaries of your category, segment, or industry situation.

What Do You Want to Disrupt?

1. Define the high-level situation in the industry, market, or category you want to disrupt (for example, a situation in which nothing has changed in a long time).

  • Resist the urge to start thinking of problems. The best hypotheses are often created from situations where nothing appears to be wrong.
  • Fill in the blanks: “How can we disrupt the competitive landscape in [insert your situation] by delivering an unexpected solution?”

What Are the Clichés?

2. Identify the clichés—the assumptions and conventions that influence the way producers and consumers think about the situation you’ve selected.

  • Start by comparing two or more companies that are competing in the industry you’re focused on.
  • Using the three filters (product, interaction, and price), scour the Web for information about each competitor and make a list of the clichés you find. (Remember: the most obvious and seemingly “natural” assumptions are the easiest to ignore.)

What Are Your Hypotheses?

3. Take the clichés and twist them like a Rubik’s cube, subjecting them to fresh scrutiny. (Remember: This exercise is designed to challenge your established way of looking at an industry, segment, or category.)

  • Examine the clichés and look for something (or things) that you could take away, invert, and exaggerate in scale.
  • Generate several hypotheses by asking, “What if…?”
  • Choose three hypotheses that you’re excited to move forward with.

Discovering a Disruptive Opportunity

Objective: To find an opportunity to put your hypotheses into action, by carefully observing your customers and their needs.


What Are Your Observations?

4. Determine the kinds of information you’d like to gather by making a list of questions based on your hypotheses.

5. Define the relevant audience: a mix of the target customer population, potential customers, and/or outlier customers.


6. Work out the timing required. Your decision will depend on the size and complexity of your focus, but it should be a rapid immersion—2–3 hours for
a quick informal study, 2–3 days for a longer one.

7. Set up interviews and observations in the environment where people use the products and services relevant to your situation.

8. Allow for multiple observation sites so you’ll be able to collect rich information across several environments.

9. Do at least two of the following:

  • Open-ended interview and observation
  • Noninvasive observation
  • Intercept



10. Look for tension points, not pain points (nagging issues that linger for a long time without receiving much attention). These include Workarounds,
Values, Inertia, and Shoulds versus Wants.

  • Make sure that you document everything you’re doing in at least two ways—notes and photographs.


What Are Your Insights?

11. Ground your data by printing or transcribing your observations. Print key photographs, sketches, or other images you collect.

12. Find a surface that’s large enough for you to move and arrange all of your observations and supporting information.

13. Cluster related observations together and identify key themes, and then seek to turn observations into insights.

  • Look for the non-obvious, the unexpected. Look for a counterintuitive rift between expectation and result.
  • Generate insights by asking “why?” Interpret the patterns you see, and record your insights in real time. Aim for one insight per theme.
  • Give your insights impact. Use paradoxical phrasing (but or whereas) to call attention to the gap exposed by the insight.

What Are Your Opportunities?

14. Match your insights with the relevant hypotheses to determine the best fit.

  • Consider the relationship between insights and hypotheses. Look for the advantages that your insights suggest.
  • Group and re-group. Combine the insights with the hypotheses in different ways to find the best opportunity.



15. Define one opportunity that provides the most fertile ground for putting your hypotheses into action. (Remember that an opportunity is not a solution. It defines a focus area for the creation of solutions.)

  • Describe the opportunity in a three-part sentence (who it’s for + the advantage it delivers + the gap it reveals).


Generating a Disruptive Idea

Objective: To transform the opportunity into three ideas with the potential for great impact.


What Is Your Focus?

16. Break down your opportunity into a number of focus points for generating ideas (e.g. Opportunity: Provide drivers with ways of being more productive
that are safe and optimized for driving).

  • Note the advantage part of the opportunity statement (e.g. More productive), then list 4–5 moments for when this benefit could be delivered (e.g. When making phone calls in the car).
  • Note the gap part of the opportunity statement (e.g. Safe and optimized for driving), then think about how this could be addressed for each of the when moments (e.g. How can we safely optimize the way people make phone calls in their car?).

17. Think creatively about the answers to each question, and generate as many new ideas as you can (e.g. Idea: Integrated hands-free phone calls).

  • For inspiration, look for examples of how that advantage or gap has been addressed in other product or service categories.
  • Figure out how you could connect the entire idea or part of the idea into your situation.

What Can You Blend Together?

18. Pick three ideas that offer the greatest differentiation and the largest number of benefits to either your customers or your company. (Choosing three gives you a good range to experiment, challenge assumptions, and gather feedback in the next stage.)

19. For each of the three ideas, go through the following steps to refine the offering:

  • Blend the bits: Consider the product, service, and information bits simultaneously to create a hybrid offering.
  • Blend the benefits: Consider the benefits being offered to partners, buyers, and users.


What Are Your Ideas? (Describe them.)


20. Follow these steps to create a one-page summary for each of your three ideas:

  • Give your idea a name. Make it short and memorable.
  • By using four components (Label, User, Benefit, and Method), craft a one-sentence description of what the idea is and why it’s important.
  • Describe how your idea is different. Include one significant point and several minor ones.
  • Visualize. Create an annotated visual for your idea that concretely describes its components, features, and functionality.

Shaping a Disruptive Solution

Objective: To facilitate end-user feedback and use it to refine your ideas into a single, feasible solution.


What Do People Really Think?

21. Recruit consumers for research.

22. Bring them into your office (or wherever you’ll be doing the testing), and run them through the following five activities:

  • Memory mapping: Ask participants to draw (from memory) the product or service they currently use and that’s most relevant to your situation.
  • Individual ranking: Guide participants through each idea and ask them to individually rate the ideas’ attributes on a 1–5 scale.
  • Group ranking: Have participants work together to rank the ideas against a list of attributes and their polar opposites.
  • Improvement exercise: Have participants work together to mix and match attributes and features from the ideas they have been shown. By doing this, they agree on the one idea that seems ideal.


Which Idea Should You Move Forward With?

23. Based on consumer feedback, select one idea to refine.

  • Alternatively, combine attributes from all three ideas by getting rid of some things and adding a few from other ideas that do a better job.

24. Set up a review team of 3–5 people that includes a range of job functions and perspectives.

  • Include members of the target audience and stakeholders who will build or sell the idea.

25. Prepare to create rough mock-ups of the idea that will enable you to visualize, understand, and transform your idea into a practical solution.

What Is Your Solution?

26. Complete three rounds of prototyping to refine and shape your chosen idea into a feasible solution:

  • Round 1: Create a storyboard that illustrates the interactions end users will have with your solution. Highlight the service and information components of the idea.
  • Round 2: Create a physical mock-up (lowfidelity), highlighting the product component of your solution.
  • Round 3: Produce a series of photos—or video scenes—of someone using your solution in its proposed environment (context). This will convey how the product, service, and information pieces work together to form a cohesive experience.


27. As you and your review team are working with and evaluating the prototypes, collect as much feedback as you can.

  • At the end of each cycle, review the prototype with other people and “iterate” it in the next cycle based on feedback.
  • Each cycle of iteration narrows the range of possibilities until the idea takes the shape of a practical solution.

Making a Disruptive Pitch

Objective: To craft and deliver a 9-minute pitch for your one solution.

How Are You Creating Empathy? (3 Slides, 3 Minutes)


28. This is the point of orientation for the pitch audience, where your objective is to spark their empathy.

  • Slide 1: Establish the inadequacy of current clichés (The Status Quo).
  • Slide 2: Explain why this is an issue (The Observations).
  • Slide 3: Explain how that’s frustrating the target customer (The Story).

How Are You Building Tension? (3 Slides, 3 Minutes)


29. This is the point of surprise, intrigue, and curiosity for the pitch audience. Your objective is to build tension by delivering an unexpected insight and opportunity.

  • Slide 4: Tell them something they don’t know (The Insight).
  • Slide 5: Provide a sense of how this knowledge could be used (The Opportunity).
  • Slide 6: Use a familiar example to help them understand the potential (The Analogy).

How Will You Make Your Audience Believe? (3 Slides, 3 Minutes)

30. This is where you unveil your solution to the pitch audience. Your objective is to build their belief in the value it delivers.

  • Slide 7: Reveal your answer to the opportunity (The Solution).
  • Slide 8: Explain the motivation for customers and stakeholders to make the change you’re suggesting (The Advantages).
  • Slide 9: Communicate the solution’s higher purpose and potential (The Ethos).

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