In our digital age, the word disruption has acquired a new meaning. Previously, disruption implied something negative and invasive – and for many companies, it still does. But for other organizations, disruption has become a buzz word casually thrown around in strategy and planning sessions. From a tech perspective, it’s great to see that more and more companies are embracing digital disruption. They’re acknowledging the fact that what they’re doing today may not be relevant within a year. They’re learning to keep their eyes open, and to be proactive instead of reactive. They’re taking steps to find their identity as a digital brand.

Though the enthusiasm and intent is on point, it’s important to remember that not just any new idea for digitization or automation is considered “disruptive.” If you’re planning to truly disrupt the marketplace, you must start with the basics. TechTarget defines digital disruption as the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services. Creating a technology that makes current products and services obsolete is a pretty tall order, so how do you know you’re on the right path to becoming disruptive?

In our experience, we’ve found that there are three key characteristics of disruptive technologies:

It solves a problem. This should be obvious, but understanding why your technology is necessary in the first place should be the very first thing you do before moving forward. Figure out why the existing process is broken and insert your technology into the marketplace as a solution. Additionally, a disruptive technology should make things easier, not harder. We see so many technologies in the marketplace that make things worse before they get better. Simply making something digital does not necessarily mean it is solving a problem. Keep your value propositions and customer experience at the forefront in the development stage.

It changes the competitive landscape. Disruptive technologies usually take the marketplace by surprise. Who would have thought Apple, a computer company, would become the biggest competitor of photography companies like Kodak, or cellular companies like Motorola? Truly disruptive technologies make almost any industry a target; differentiating them from emerging technologies, which focus on particular industries. Disruptive technologies have the flexibility and longevity of morphing into something that almost anybody from any industry can find valuable. This is why disruptive organizations must constantly be thinking outside of the box; finding innovative, better and smarter ways of doing things.

It causes a behavioral shift. This is probably the most important characteristic of all. Digital disruption can be classified as a movement. Disruption cannot happen until the end user group adapts to the technology, embraces the technology, and eventually can no longer live without the technology. The most successful technologies are the ones that people never realized they needed. Believe it or not, there was a time when your telephone, email, camera, address book and video games did not all exist within the same device… and just about everybody was okay with that. But would anybody with a smart phone ever be willing to return to that antiquated way of life? Remember when we said disruptive technologies should solve a problem in the marketplace? Truly disruptive products and services uncover problems that end users never realized were problems in the first place. This is all part of a change in behavior, and it is crucial for disruption.

We live in a world where anything is possible, which can be both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. The best way to stay ahead of the curve is to embrace the possibility of disruption, and continue thinking outside of the box.