The Do’s and Don’ts of Disruption

TIME's Rick Stengel talks to successful entrepreneurs about upending the status quo to create truly groundbreaking innovations

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Nathan Weber for TIME

Steve Case speaks with Rick Stengel during the Chicago Ideas Week megatalk on disruptive innovation at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012.

Spotify vs. iTunes. Pinterest vs. Facebook. MakerBot vs. the manfacturing industry. In today’s startup-driven world, the greats thrive by “disrupting,” that is upending the status quo in ways the surprise, delight, and even scare us. (We’re looking at you, Google Goggles.) As Chicago Ideas Week co-chairman Erci Lefkofsky puts it, “We need to find ways to make our most daring individuals successful.”

But what’s the best way to cultivate the companies behind those groundbreaking innovations? That’s the question TIME’s Rick Stengel explored with a variety of entrepreneurs, including AOL founder Steve Case, MakerBot founder Bre Pettis, and Massive Health founder Aza Raskin, during last night’s ‘Disruptive Innovation: Reinventing Our World’ megatalk. Here’s what they shared:

(MORE:  The Disrupters–Eight Businesses Reshaping Our World)

Do: be patient.
“Transformative ideas rarely happen overnight,” says Case. He would know: Even though the veteran entrepreneur, who helped fund Living Social and ZipCar, among other ventures, conceptualized AOL in the ’80s, he couldn’t legally offer a commercial Internet service until 1991. Even worse: “it took us four years to get IBM to build a modem into the PC!”

Do: rethink education and healthcare.
Music, mobile, retail—they’ve all been disrupted by technologies that have fundamentally improved the experience for the everyday people. Not so with education and healthcare, which are still controlled by old-school institutions. “Companies don’t make healthcare products for people—they make them for doctors and insurance companies,” says Aza Raskin, whose startup, Massive Health, aims to change that with healthcare apps (and eventually physical tools) that are actually fun to use.

Do: go mobile.
Mobile platforms have plenty of pitfalls—chiefly, that nobody has figured out how best to monetize them. Still, says Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of AllThingsD, they’ll be key to the business models of the future. “Mobile use is growing at 38%, web use is growing at 8%,” she explains. “Now, when I tell people ‘I leave you to your devices,’ I actually mean it!”

Don’t: follow the rules.
“The more we look backwards at rules that protect what was, the less likely we are to be successful,” says Dan Rosenweig. That’s why his web platform, Chegg, offers a completely new take on educational resources; what began as “Netflix for textbooks” is now a full-fledged hub for affordable, accessible academic tools.

Don’t: let foreign talent go.
Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, including Apple, Google, and McDonald’s. And thousands of their would-be successors—also foreigners—are currently studying at America’s top schools. As such, says Case, we have to pass legislation making it easier for them to get green cards, lest they go home “and create better competitors.”

MORE: TIME’s Full Coverage of Chicago Ideas Week

1 comments
Jarskaaja
Jarskaaja

Don't: require a Facebook account. Spotify could have a lot more users but many of them are turned off by the Facebook spam and go away when they find out you must allow posting permissions to your Facebook to use the service.

Pinterest also required it at some point but now they allow users to sign up for a normal account. If the intent is to compete with Facebook, requiring a Facebook account is the height of stupidity.