MIT

Disruption today: All about managing customers' expectations

July 20, 2011: 2:48 PM ET

Or, the art of selling change.

Josh James

Josh James

FORTUNE -- How do you disrupt when your customers don't want to be disrupted?

At a roundtable conversation at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., a group of entrepreneurs and fast-growing company executives convened to discuss the ways upstarts are trying to shake up the status quo. But rather than focusing on the incumbents they are seeking to displace, the disruptors engaged in a lively conversation about a different challenge: shaking up customers.

"Customers don't want disruption," said Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks (ARUN). "They have a job to do."

Orr's solution? Let someone else convince customers that change is good. "Before the iPad I'd go in to talk about a distributed access environment, and I felt like I was pitching herbal medicines," Orr said. "After the iPad I felt like people were coming to me for asprin." (Which led moderator Michael Schrage of MIT to quip: "Steve Jobs is your Trojan Horse.")

Josh James, CEO of Domo and founder of Ominture (now part of Adobe (ADBE)), noted that customers don't always know what's good for them. He says one of the top skills of a disruptor is to"have the courage" to ignore what customers tell him they think they need. "We need to create a better version of a product that they're going to want."

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