A Process for Disrupting Your Own Business Model


A couple years ago I listened to a presentation by speaker and author Professor Robert Wolcott of Kellogg when I attended the Digital Manufacturing Conference for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Leaders for Global Operations. One key question Professor Wolcott asked resonated with me, “What will happen to our business when people stop buying whatever it is we are selling?” That question made me consider how companies can maintain an entrepreneurs sense of urgency and avoid resting on their laurels? How can we prevent what happened to Blockbuster, Pan Am, and Kodak, from happening to us?

Dr. Wolcott provided advice on how companies can come up with these disruptive ideas, as well as how to select which among them to pursue. The most important foundational aspect is to creating a “disruptive” culture is to have everyone on the team Open Their Minds to New Ideas.

With that seed we started to develop our own process to address this need which we summarize as: Stay ahead of the curve and BE the disruptor to your own industry!

Out of this effort we created process, including some tools, to guide leaders on their path of disruption. Integrated into the work steps below is AJC’s Disrupting Your Business Workbook. The workbook provides tools to help you follow along with each step of the process below.

Before starting, Leadership should discuss with employees the expectation that the company wants disruptive ideas. Leadership must be aligned to be openly supportive of this – remember the eight most expensive words in business (and the reason why you want to stay on top of disruption in the first place!) “Because we have always done it that way.” Hand-pick employees who have influence over other employees, whether formal or informal, as these people can champion the ideas you ultimately select when execution begins.

Here is the process step by step.

1. Select a subset of employees to generate and record Disruptive Ideas in multiple ways.1

You may choose a set of personal and professional characteristics to select your team of Disruptors. Minimally they need to be open minded, inquisitive, good teammates and good communicators.

2. Gather your Disruptors together to go over the goals of the team and review the Selection Criteria on the Prioritization Matrix Tab of the Disrupting Your Business Workbook (We recommend you use an unbiased facilitator to lead the discussions at the group meetings.)

a. The following are the 5 Evaluation Criteria used to assess each Disruptive Idea:

  • Meets a Markets Needs
  • Fits with Our Brand
  • Cost to Pilot
  • Improves Our Market Position
  • Potential Financial Benefit


b. Weight the importance of each Selection Criteria based on your company’s strategy, goals and culture. This step allows you to differentiate the relative value of each Selection Criteria. We recommend using a scale of 1-10 to Weight (row 5 on the Prioritization Matrix tab) each criteria but the formulas used to calculate the Priority Scores will accept whatever scale you choose. When you start the Disruption project the team may not have a clear view how to differentiate weighting the Selection Criteria. That is no problem. Make them all the same and if relative values emerge later, they are easy enough to change.

c. Now the team is ready to go “Disruptive”.

Use the examples at the bottom of this article1to acquire Disruptive Ideas or have the team come up with their own mechanisms for finding Disruptive Ideas. Task each team member to come up with 2-3 Disruptive Ideas for discussion at the 2ndDisruption Team meeting. Set the date for the 2ndmeeting before adjourning the meeting. A good timeframe for the 2ndmeeting is within 2-4 weeks of the first one.

3. 2ndDisruptors Team meeting - Prioritizing the Disruptive Ideas

a. Begin the meeting by reviewing all the Disruptive ideas and cataloguing them in the Disruptive Idea column (“B”) on the Prioritization Matrix tab of the Disrupting Your Business Workbook.

b. With the team, develop the benchmarks, or scoring rationale, for each of the criteria. What does a high mark (“10”) look like? What does a low mark (“1”) look like?

c. Next, use a scoring system to evaluate the Disruptive Idea for each of the 5 Evaluation Criteria. This is a key learning time for the team. Respecting the ideas and concepts of each team member is important at this stage. Healthy debate is required to grow the team’s understanding of each Disruptive Idea’s potential. Objective comments are very helpful and be careful to separate personal opinions/subjectivity from facts.

d. The Priority Number for each Disruptive Idea (the sum of the product of each score and its weighted criteria) will be automatically calculated for each Disruptive Idea you complete.

e. The Risk Rating column (I) uses a binary (high or low) risk rating to knock out high risk Disruptive Ideas. Any Disruptive Idea that is rated high risk at this stage will not be considered

f. Sort as follows: 1ston the Risk Rating column Smallest to Largest and 2ndon the Priority Number from the Largest to Smallest (use the sort function on columns A – I, after row 6, sorting column I from Smallest to Largest and then column H from Largest to Smallest)

The team has now created a useful working document, a Prioritized list of Disruptive Ideas. This is a good time to break. Be mindful of everyone’s effort in this process, not simply those whose ideas had the highest Priority Number scores. This is a team exercise – and everyone will be needed for the following steps. Schedule meeting number 3, within the next 1 to 2 weeks, before breaking up.

4. 3rdDisruptors Team meeting -

a. List the 5 to 10 Disruptive Ideas from the Prioritization Matrix that have the highest Priority Number (target 20% of your original list) on the Disruptive Idea Review tab of the Disrupting Your Business Workbook .

b. Constraints, Mitigation Strategies and Customer Focus

  • Discuss and determine the top 1-3 Constraints (Time, Cost, Internal Know-How, Challenge to Convince Customers, Fear of Failure, Already available from competition, etc.) for each Disruptive Idea. List these in column C on the Disruptive Ideas tab.
  • Discuss and determine the top Potential Mitigation Strategies for each Constraint listed (Hire Staff, Trial a Solution, Contract an Expert, Test the Idea with Customers, Determine What Success and Failure Look Like, Can the Current Product Be Improved, etc.)
  • Discuss Potential Customers: Are there any customers who “just don’t care” about some of these constraints; ways that you can mitigate these concerns. Are there clients for whose pain points these ideas would materially improve; or how competition will win if you don’t have this. Make sure these are considered in your Constraints and Potential Mitigation Strategy discussion.

c. Once all the selected Disruptive Ideas have the Constraints, Potential Mitigation Strategies and Potential Customers completed go to the Disruptive Ideas tab and rate the following for each Disruptive Idea on a 1-5 scale:

  • The Impact: Consider the financial, cultural and business scope impact the disruptive idea would have on the company. This is good time to refer back to Prioritization Matrix to review your initial selection criteria. Some of the scores you used there may help you estimate your Impact score. A score of 5 will have the most impact
  • Ease to Implement: Use “complexity” of implementation as the main criteria for this measure. A score of 5 means it is easy to implement.
  • We have included an Impact/Ease to Implement Chart in the I-EI Chart tab. You may find the visual from plotting your Impact and Ease to Implement points a good visual to compare or explain the alternative Disruptive Ideas and to support your choices.
  • We recommend considering the Disruptive Ideas with the largest Total Scores (Impact + Ease of Impact) for your projects.

5. Pick 1 to 3 of your Disruptive Ideas and use the Implementation Plan Template in the Disrupting Your Business Workbook to develop your high-level implementation plan. This will include the activities required to implement, an activity owner, notes, estimated duration, team hours and a completion date for each activity.

Once you’ve developed the Implementation Plans, maintain strong Accountability on execution.

We look forward to hearing from you about your Business Disrupting journey.

For further ideas on finance innovation see Innovating Your CFO Activities

1 Examples of means to acquire Disruptive Ideas:

  • Attend an industry conference
  • Speak with customers
  • Research disruptors to your industry ALREADY occurring
  • Buy and use your competitors’ products
  • Talk to users of your competitors’ products
  • Use your own product as though you were a new customer
  • Write down various ideas which have been “kicked around the office” for a while
  • Watch TED Talks and CFO Ed Talks
  • Find your inspiration place and spend time there


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