Entrepreneurs are often laser focused on their ventures. This can particularly be the case for entrepreneurs that set out to ‘disrupt’ an industry, who will tend to define themselves in contrast to incumbents. They may point out that big players are holding back the industry, either stifling or eschewing innovation in favour of preserving the status quo. Disruptive ventures will claim that this comes at a great cost; the status quo might be masking inefficiencies or inertia that, left unaddressed, could lead to stagnation.
Much of this is of course inevitable and an inherent part of capitalism; industries rise and fall and the same applies to organisations. This refers to the notion of creative destruction, whereby the free market is seen as a place of great dynamism and organisations that fail to adapt inevitably wither and become replaced by more forward-looking entities. Therefore, there is a self-correcting process which ensures that – more often than not – failure opens the door to success, and out of old and tired industries spring new and more dynamic ones.
Disruptive entrepreneurs know this. They are keen observers of markets, systems and processes. They spot areas that are ripe for innovation, processes that no longer work, and systems that need to be scrapped or reappraised. They identify opportunities to make things work optimally and – as they tend to bring a fresh perspective to the market – they may also be sceptical of prevalent instructional practices and informal rules, particularly when they privilege a certain set of people for reasons other than merit.
Entrepreneurs will prioritise efficiency and effectiveness, and subject practices and norms to critical scrutiny. If on closer inspection they cannot be justified and do not reasonably advance the industry, they will replace or evolve them. Disruptive ventures will, for better or worse, disavow most of the old world that is deemed to be dysfunctional or broken. Replacing this will be new norms and often new people and leaders that can carve a new path for the market.
However, many entrepreneurs develop a type of tunnel vision when it comes to pressing ahead with their disruptive ventures. This is, to an extent, expected; launching a disruptive venture is a highly stressful and arduous process that comes with a significant time commitment. However, entrepreneurs that fail to look beyond the confines of their sector might be doing themselves – and their ventures – a disservice.
Industries do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a broader ecosystem and community that sustains them. Entrepreneurs that are setting out to ‘disrupt’ a market should take enough time to understand the broader dynamics that shape that industry before pushing ahead. They should think critically about the status quo. Why are things the way they are? Have people tried changing them before? Why hasn’t it worked?
Engaging in this exercise will place the market in a wider historical and social context and can enable entrepreneurs to glean valuable lessons. This means that the urge to dismiss everything that has come before might be misplaced; entrepreneurs might be better served by taking a more nuanced and considered approach. Disruption is still the objective, of course, but innovation done blindly is destined to fail.
Roman Semiokhin has embraced this mindset throughout his career. A successful serial entrepreneur, innovator and philanthropist, he has always set out to improve markets and systems in industries ranging from IT and agriculture to medicine. He has also donated significantly in the fight against the pandemic and assisted in wildfire recovery efforts in countries as diverse as Russia and Cyprus.