What Is Disruptive Thinking and How Can It Benefit Your Business?

What is disruptive thinking? Whilst it may sound like something that could have got you in trouble at school, it’s actually a way of thinking about business development that can see your company skyrocket to success. 

Disruptive innovations shape the future of industries. Novel ways of thinking about existing products or services emerge every day, often resulting in shakeouts that eliminate established companies and pave the way for new ones.

To get to grips with what disruptive innovation is, it’s helpful to take a look at examples of companies that have disrupted their industries in recent years. Having established what disruptive thinking is, this guide will provide practical tips on how to promote it.

Examples of Disruptive Companies


When thinking about disruptive companies, Netflix is often the go-to example. An inspiration to all small firms out there, Netflix began life as the germ of an idea in the mind of CEO, Reed Hastings. 

The idea for the company apparently came in 1997 when he was charged $40 for the late return of a rental film. Netflix began as a DVD rental service that delivered films to its customers via mail. At this stage, the firm was operating in a well-established market, competing against the likes of Blockbuster and LoveFilm.

All of that changed in 2007 when Netflix decided to flip its business model on its head. The company launched the subscription-based online video streaming service that many of us know and love today, gradually moving away from sending DVDs in the post.

This move had a dramatic effect on the DVD rental industry. By 2010, Netflix had become the most-watched film streaming site in North America – at around the same time, Blockbuster went bust.

Netflix’s decision to switch to a streaming-based business model is a classic example of disruptive innovation backed by digital technology. Alternative and competitor firms were left unable to compete, whilst Netflix reaped the rewards of their ability to think disruptively.


Airbnb has shaken up the hotel industry since it was founded in 2008. Whilst we’re pretty sure you’ll have heard of it, the company is an online marketplace for homeowners who want to rent out their place.

Another inspiration to small business owners, Airbnb was the brainchild of two who couldn’t afford the rental fees on their apartment. They had the idea of sticking a blow-up bed in their living room and turning it into a rough and ready bed and breakfast.

Since then, it’s become incredibly popular with tourists the world over, allowing users to visit their dream destinations for just a fraction of the price of regular hotels. Airbnb’s meteoric rise to success is demonstrated by the fact that it served more than 9 million guests in its first five years of business.

But what made Airbnb so successful – and why should we think of it as a disruptive innovation? Similar to Netflix, the secret to the company’s growth lay in its ability to offer consumers an alternative service that was not only cheaper but also a lot more convenient.

It’s this habit of thinking outside of the box and experimenting with new ways of doing business that sets disruptive companies like Netflix and Airbnb apart from the rest.


The final example on this list of disruptive companies, Wikipedia fundamentally altered how many of us look for information. It has been many people’s first port of call for knowledge on anything and everything for a number of years now.

Prior to the site’s launch in 2001, the only all-encompassing sources of knowledge were encyclopedias. Hard copies of encyclopedias were expensive and time-consuming to search through, whilst the information stored on the digital format of the popular Encyclopædia Britannica was constantly going out of date.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, is a free service that is constantly updated by its team of volunteer editors. It’s clear that this disruptive innovation has been pretty significant: Wikipedia is currently one of the most visited sites on the Internet, whilst Encyclopædia Britannica ceased printing copies in 2010.

Tips on Creating Business Disruption

So, by this point, you know what disruptive thinking is and appreciate that disruptive innovation can lead to huge business growth. Now you’re probably wondering how you can encourage yourself and others in your business to think more disruptively.

We’re constantly being told to think outside the box, step outside our comfort zones, and challenge the status quo when it comes to business innovation. But what practical steps can we actually take to promote this kind of thinking?

Unconventional Work Environments

One technique adopted by disruptive companies is to mess with the layout of the physical work environment in the hopes of allowing creativity to flow. Google’s offices are famously laidback, with relaxation zones, unconventional seating areas, and entertainment on offer.

Traditional office spaces do not allow for much flexibility. Employees are expected to work at the desk assigned to them for much of the day and there aren’t many opportunities for mental diversion. Staying in the same spot all day can stifle creativity and cause us to think about things from the same perspective all of the time.

Many modern offices offer breakout spaces and games such as table tennis, allowing employees to break up the day and encouraging them to look at things in a new light. Your company might want to think about some of these workspace innovations if you’re looking to encourage innovation on the business front.

Plan Ideation Sessions

Getting together as a group of employees and thinking about a business issue from a number of different angles can help to get the creative juices flowing. These don’t have to be a regular thing. In fact, spontaneous ideation sessions often get the best out of the brains at your disposal.

Try collaborative activities that promote unconventional thinking like mind mapping or round-robin brainstorming. You’ve probably heard of mind mapping, but round-robin brainstorming is a technique where everyone has to contribute at least one idea – without fear of critique –before the group votes on the best ones.

Run Innovation Competitions

Ask your staff to think of a particular product or service offered by your firm and come up with a new way of approaching it. Get each staff member to pitch their experimental idea to a panel before deciding on the best concepts.

The winner(s) of the competition could be rewarded with a prize, as well as the chance to give their business idea a go with the support of the company. With the right incentives on offer, you may just find that a competition unearths unexpected creativity in the office.

Disruptive Thinking for Small Businesses

As you’ve probably gathered from this post, disruptive thinking can help your company to skyrocket to success. This is particularly applicable to smaller, less established businesses that have the flexibility to make a change in direction with the right innovative ideas – given the comparative lack of bureaucracy, implementing them will also be easier than it would with a big business.

Try out the tips above with your small business. Even if your brainstorming doesn’t lead to a radical change in your firm’s business model, the process of formulating and putting across ideas will benefit your employees in terms of boosting their creativity and developing their communication skills.

Hopefully this article has helped you to understand disruptive thinking and provided you with a few ideas about how you can promote it. If your business is expanding and looking for office space, BizSpace offers flexible office renting and can help you to find the perfect work environment to promote creativity in your workforce.

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BizSpace is the UK’s leading provider of regional flexible workspace. For over 20 years we have been offering office, studio and workshop units to a wide range of businesses in convenient regional locations across the country. We are owned by Sirius Real Estate, a commercial property operator, that is supporting us on a journey to significant growth.

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