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4 min read

It Takes Courage to be Disruptive

Aug 1, 2014

It takes courage to be disruptive.

It’s one thing to understand what this means… but what does being courageous actually feel like, and why is it so hard?

To help answer this question, let’s look at the world of 3D printing.

Right now, 3D printing is in a disruptive phase. One Deloitte report projects 300% market growth over the next 5-6 years:

Sales of 3D printers will approach $5 billion in 2017, up from $1.7 billion in 2011, as demand expands for everything from consumer applications to markets such as automotive, aerospace, industrial and healthcare.

Every day, it seems, we see a new 3D printing project announced and funded on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. And 3D printers are on sale now in thousands of stores.

As a proud board member of 3D Systems, I am lucky enough to witness this explosion firsthand!

But we have only been talking about 3D printing in this way for the last few years.

As a result, people think of it as an overnight success.

The fact of the matter is that it has taken over 35 years of persistence and courage to bring this technology to the masses.

In the early 1980s, Chuck Hull invented 3D printing, after developing a process called stereolithography and constructing his first 3-D printer. He then founded 3D Systems to develop and commercialize the technology.

This was no easy task.

Over the next 20 years, development was slow (deceptive), incredibly expensive, and burdened with complicated user interfaces. All three factors prevented widespread adoption.

By the early 2000s, despite their enormous “first mover” advantage, 3D Systems was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Fast forward to today, and the company, led by my good friend and CEO Avi Reichental, is worth $6 billion.

So why was it so hard in the early days? And why did it take so much courage to push forward?

In my mind, disruption takes courage for the following key reasons:

1. It takes vision.

In many cases, as an entrepreneur, you can see the ultimate potential of your venture. But it takes much longer a) for the rest of the world to see that vision, b) for the marketplace itself to develop and demand your product/service, and c) for your vision to materialize.

This was the case with Chuck Hull and 3D printing.

2. Everyone will fight you.

Almost everybody (investors, colleagues, and even family and friends) will doubt you and many will think you’re crazy. If you are really innovating and creating something completely new, most people simply won’t believe it until they can hold it in their hands. And even then, they might be skeptical of its potential in the market.

3. Obstacles are everywhere you look.

The road to disruption is rife with challenges. Technological. Financial. Mental. Social.

And this isn’t just for new entrepreneurs.

It’s also extraordinarily difficult for already-established CEOs and companies to disrupt themselves. On top of the normal cohort of doubters, they have to face their boards of directors, employees, existing customers, and fellow executives.

And, as I always say, unless you are disrupting yourself, someone else is disrupting you. The pressure is certainly on.

So what’s the best way to think about this?

It’s easy to say “stick to your guns and believe in yourself through it all.”

But that doesn’t cut it.

Dan Sullivan’s 4 C’s

My friend Dan Sullivan has a good framework for thinking about this. While I often speak about the six D’s, Dan talks about 4 C’s.

The first is to make a commitment.

This commitment gives you the willpower and energy you need for the second C: courage.

With commitment and courage, you have the power to create capability.

And finally, armed with commitment, courage and capability, you then have confidence to execute your vision.

This cycle continues: the confidence you gain from seeing your original commitment through inspires you to create new commitments.

One of the best ways I’ve found to realize the 4 C’s is to surround yourself with the right people.

I am lucky enough to have surrounded myself with an extraordinary group of positive entrepreneurs and implementers. In all of my companies – Planetary Resources, Human Longevity Inc., XPRIZE, Singularity University and PHD Ventures – my teams make it easy and fun to push the boundaries.

Also read: TOP 50 MOON SHOTS (2000 - 2020)


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Peter H. Diamandis

Written by Peter H. Diamandis


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