4 Ways Startups Can Harness Innovation and Disruption

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We live in a time when doctors no longer have to rely on costly and unwieldy medical imaging devices to diagnose illnesses. A simple “visual stethoscope” would help them see deep into the human body more easily than ever, thereby accelerating both diagnosis and therapy. Meanwhile, if you’re a chronically ill patient, you no longer have to make repeated, costly visits to the hospital. Say hello to Molly — an innovative, friendly, virtual nurse who can check up on you, monitor your vitals and provide follow-up care — all through your smart phone.

Speaking of smartphones, the future of banking is here. You can now use your mobile device to do just about all your banking on the go — from opening an account to tracking your spending to freezing and unfreezing your credit cards, and more. You can even have your own automated financial adviser provide advice on where and how to invest your savings smartly, at a fraction of the cost charged by traditional banks.

Butterfly Network, Sense.ly, Monzo, and Betterment are the companies that are making each of these scenarios a reality, respectively. They’re transforming the way we think about healthcare and financial services. And they’re doing that through a range of disruptive technologies — so much so that today’s healthcare and banking organizations are no longer just about people in white lab coats or crisp suits. They’re a confluence of product engineers, designers, developers and security specialists in addition to physicians or bankers. Think ” Big Bang Theory meets Scrubs,” as Sense.ly describes itself. It’s a paradigm shift in traditional industry models.

Related: 4 Steps to Cultivating an Innovation Mindset in Your Organization

Keeping pace in a disruptive world

I believe we’re moving towards a future where financial services and healthcare organizations will not be known as financial services and healthcare organizations any longer, but as technology companies. Take banking, for instance: an industry steeped in conventional branch-based infrastructure and services, which is now being upended in Uber-like style by mobile and cloud computing, sophisticated behavior-based analytics, and young, ambitious startups that are more in tune with the needs of the millennial consumer. Just last year, Monzo, billed as the “bank of the future”, was able to raise 1 million pounds in 96 seconds, making it the fastest crowdfunding campaign ever.

This is the exciting reality of the digital age. Every day, there are new technologies and new startups emerging with better business models, and simpler products and services. On one hand, these innovations are making our lives better. A DNA App Store, for example, can predict your health risks and pre-dispositions to certain diseases, and vein and voice biometric scanners can make financial transactions more secure.

Related: The Science of Innovation: How to Imagine the Unimaginable

On the other hand, these technological disruptions are upping the stakes on the playing field, making it more important for companies to stay on top of their game, and to push the boundaries of what’s possible. A November 2014 study by MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research found that an estimated 32 percent of revenue over the next five years would be at risk due to digital disruption.

So, what does your startup need to be doing to ride the upside wave of that disruption, and make 2017 a year of innovation and transformation?

1. Build diverse teams.

In my experience, business leaders who surround themselves with people from different countries, ethnic backgrounds, genders, age groups and industry experiences are some of the best innovators simply because they bring a number of perspectives and ideas to the table. They have their assumptions challenged and their minds expanded, and they’re exposed to different ways of solving challenges and pursuing opportunities.

Both Harvard Business Review and McKinsey found that diverse companies out-innovate and out-perform their peers. No one knows that better than Kaiser Permanente, where more than half of the staff comprise people of color, while three-fourths of the employees and nearly half of the executives are women. This kind of diversity, the organization claims, is a hallmark of its success.

Related: 3 Ways Startups Can Promote Innovation in the Trump Era

2. Get comfortable with uncertainties and unknowns.

Being a pioneer and disrupter often means wading into uncharted waters, and taking risks that few, if any, have set a precedent for before. That’s what makes people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson some of the greatest disruptors of our time. They take big risks — big, calculated risks. They do their homework, and understand how to balance the risks and opportunities that matter, before making key decisions.

Today’s businesses have the benefit of predictive algorithms and data crunching tools to prepare for the risks and uncertainties that lie ahead. And while some of those “risky” decisions may fail, it’s important to establish an organizational culture that values risk-taking. Empowering your people to experiment and explore new ideas is critical for innovation, transformation and disruption.

3. Restrict resources.

Having fewer resources pushes you to think differently and innovatively about how to solve problems, and get things done. Do you really need to rent that office, hire all those employees and purchase the latest software, or can you work remotely, contract with freelancers and use free software options? Do you really need to spend months planning and researching your product, or can you put it out there right away, and enhance as you go along and get feedback from your users?

The key is to value ingenuity over investment. At MetricStream, strategic cases of restricted resources have led to our teams coming up with more innovative and effective approaches in marketing and lead generation, for example. I, personally, evaluate all my direct reports on their ability to innovate, which has led to more experimentation, better ideas and new effective approaches.

Related: Why Failing Fast Is the First Step Towards Success

4. Make compliance efficient.

Disruptors like Uber and Airbnb may have flown under the regulatory radar for a while, but that’s rapidly changing with the onset of new rules governing the sharing economy. We’re seeing a similar trend in fintech: The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently proposed a charter that, on one hand, would make it easier for fintech startups to provide their services and products, but on the other hand, would subject them to a range of federal consumer and commercial banking regulations. Meanwhile, healthcare startups are grappling with their own complex industry rules, ranging from HIPAA/HITECH to FDA mandates.

While the regulatory landscape looks uncertain right now, we’re bound to see more rules in areas such as cybersecurity, as well as compliance and ethics. So, it’s important to be prepared. From day one, make compliance a part of your culture. Set up the compliance infrastructure and tools that can automate compliance monitoring. That way, you spend less time on cumbersome administrative tasks, and more time analyzing the risks and opportunities of new regulatory requirements.

Looking to the future

Imagine smart phones that can perform blood tests and medical scans, or a digital contact lens that can measure your blood glucose levels from your tears. Imagine banks that will allow you to “virtually” enter a branch and speak to a teller face-to-face, or robot advisors that will stop you from making unsound financial choices in real-time. The opportunities for technological innovation are truly endless, and startups are right at the forefront of this trend. So, let 2017 be the year you take new risks make bold decisions, and find new ways to transform, innovate and disrupt.