By Brian McKay

While recently watching a show called Brain Games, an interesting idea was formed about disruptive business practices. In one segment the narrator asks you to stare at the X in the middle of the screen while two cheerleaders are flashed on the sides of the screen. The goal is to identify which of the two cheerleaders is a man. It’s very hard to do.

Our mind is very good at focusing on one thing. It is a survival skill from the days of having to watch out for a fast moving bears and lions and then focus on them in order to not become their lunch. While that focus is a great thing to have, our peripheral vision is blurry and unable to truly catch activity that is happening within that peripheral area. Focusing on the bear in front of you might mean not seeing the bear to the side. Those damn bears!

Fortunately, the bears and lions aren’t so much of an issue anymore. No matter how much CNN announces increased bear and shark attacks every summer, your survival is really focused on something else.

Disruptors can be disrupted. The company might be doing disruption right; innovating and taking the customers the big guys left behind, but be so focused on the goal that they fail to see another disruptor in the periphery. They are there lurking and ready to pounce. Simply because your company has innovated and burrowed into a great niche doesn’t mean someone else isn’t looking for ways to out innovate and take your niche away.

A common problem is that businesses become so focused on the growth and challenges ahead of them that they fail to see what is happening around them. While this is a very common issue for the big guys it can also effect the disruptors and make their lifespans extremely short.

The biggest X, in the middle of the screen, that gets focused on is rapid growth. For a disruptor it is exciting and stimulating to the extent that a business can become focused so intently on it that the business resembles a drug addict seeking the next score. Drug addicts seeking a score aren’t necessarily known for caring what is going on around them. Questions of cash flow, month over month gains, fulfilling new demand and marketing are all that big X while another firm is lurking to the side.

This same euphoria of rapid growth can also create the worst thing possible for a business, hubris. At that point all will be lost eventually. The minute “we can do no wrong” becomes a thought, even the really blurry peripheral vision is gone. How many stories exist of a small startup just killing it in the market place until shortly after the hard partying begins and the decline comes? They were focused on one thing and left the periphery wide open. It seems that not just the big X ruins this periphery vision but so does extreme self confidence that comes from success.

Great. So now it is time to start learning how to get some better clarity of that blurry area that is the periphery. In the Brain Games episode, it was only hard to figure out which cheerleader was the man while looking directly at the X. A quick scan to the sides of the screen made it much easier to tell who was the man and who was the woman.

A startup (or even a larger business) can also look to both sides of the screen and see what is really going on.

The very first thing is to dispense with the euphoria of growth. Yeah it is awesome and feels like a weekend in Vegas where you can’t lose, but it can also kill you (one could say the same about a weekend in Vegas too). Don’t think you can’t celebrate your successes but also don’t celebrate so much that it becomes that dreaded X and everything to the side is blurry.

Cultivate a culture of wariness. Sure things are awesome and there are orders to fill and new customers to handle, but something is always out there. Your employees can be lookouts in a business that admits it always is looking for what is happening around it. Actually encouraging your employees to be on the lookout and receive rewards for finding threats is an awesome statement of your business’ attention to its market and will have an amazing impact on future growth.

Be Honest! This is continually a huge theme for zenruption. If the company screws up or receives bad press, own it and convey to the employees that ways to correct misgivings are always sought out. Employees won’t scan a periphery for managers or owners that don’t seem to acknowledge areas that need improvement. In fact, the employees may become so focused on how myopic management seems that they don’t even scan the periphery within the company itself. Always remember that owning a problem in the executive office is one thing, displaying that ownership to employees is another.

Those lions and bears (and maybe sharks according to CNN) are out there. Keep scanning the periphery and remember it isn’t all just about X.

Go zenrupt some business.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license

Brian McKay is a co-founder of zenruption and has his MBA from Boise State University (Go Broncos!). Personal experience has made him a believer in scanning the periphery. Currently he is scanning the periphery for a morning doughnut and a cup of coffee.