The process hinges on three steps: Defining the situation, searching for cliches, and twisting those cliches around. A disruptive hypothesis is an intentionally unreasonable statement that gets your thinking flowing in a different direction. It’s kind of like the evolutionary biology theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” which states that evolution proceeds slowly and every once in a while is interrupted by sudden change. Disruptive hypotheses are designed to upset your comfortable business equilibrium and bring about an accelerated change in your own thinking. Contrast this with the more traditional definition of “hypothesis,” which is a best-guess explanation that’s based on a set of facts and can be tested by further investigation. With a disruptive hypothesis, however, you don’t make a reasonable prediction (if I charge the battery, the phone will work). Instead, you make an unreasonable provocation (what if a cell phone didn’t need a battery at all?). The difference between prediction and provocation, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw’s famous line, is the difference between “seeing things as they are and asking, ‘Why?,’ or dreaming things as they never were and asking, ‘What if?’” In our fast-changing world, when business certainties are no longer certain, the ability to imagine things as they never were and ask, “What if?,” is an essential part of every executive’s skill set.
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