Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Summit at Stanford, a conference event put on by the AlwaysOn Network.

Regular visitors of the site may recognize the AlwaysOn name from the recent news that our own Jill Hurst-Wahl will be leading a research project to learn more about the AlwaysOn Global 250, a list of domestic and international companies pioneering in on-demand computing, digital media and entertainment, and greentech.

Disruptive Thinking

Typically, I envision disruptive thinking not by any particular definition, but by real-life examples. One simple definition can be found at any major airport. (Hancock doesn’t count, Syracuse friends) If you’re dropping someone off for an early morning flight, there are likely many other people doing the same thing, making the departures lane crowded with traffic, slow, and frustrating. But – very few flights are arriving in the early morning, meaning that the arrivals lane is wide-open. Try dropping off your passenger at the arrivals gate – sure, they  may have to go up one level to reach the security lines, but the time and frustration you both stand to save is more than worth it.

Meaningful or Marketing?

The Summit at Stanford featured many innovative companies, one of which was CoolPlanet BioFuels. Instead of working on electric vehicles, or some alternative solution that would require a complete infrastructure revamp, CoolPlanet is focusing on creating traditional gasoline and diesel fuels through a new process. Their process is so revolutionary, in fact, that it is “Carbon Negative.” That is, their process produces materials that are put back into the Earth which eliminate more carbon from the atmosphere than the burning of the fuel creates – essentially, the more you drive on CoolPlanet BioFuels, the less carbon there is in the atmosphere.

CoolPlanet’s site claims that you can be

driving high performance cars and family safe SUVs while actually reversing global warming, and without using any foreign oil.

This is surely appealing to the American public, whose thirst for fuel and the cars that burn them seem to show no signs of slowing. To illustrate the fact that CoolPlanet’s fuels could be used in the existing vehicle and gas station infrastructure, they parked two branded cars out front of the conference: a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape Hybrid:

CoolPlanet BioFuels Sponsored Cars

CoolPlanet BioFuels Sponsored Cars

Both the Prius and the Escape are very hot cars right now, largely for the fact that they are more fuel efficient than their non-hybrid counterparts. This means that they use less gas to travel the same distance – exactly the opposite of the claim CoolPlanet is making! If CoolPlanet really wanted to make an impact, they should’ve parked a Lamborghini Murciélago and Nissan Titan pickup truck out front – these vehicles get only 8 and 12 MPG, respectively, but they do fall into CoolPlanet’s category of high performance and family safe. Talk about making an impact!

I asked someone from CoolPlanet why they choose to highlight the hybrids instead of the gas guzzlers, and their response was that it was for the “green factor.” It seems as though it is more important for CoolPlanet to appear “green” rather than really highlight the power of their product. For them, disruptive thinking is merely marketing.

Make It Meaningful

Fortunately, we can all learn from CoolPlanet’s decision to look green rather than highlight their game-changing product. Here’s the lesson: if your product or service is truly revolutionary, changes the way people traditionally conceive of the situation, or make possible something previously thought impossible, do everything you can to highlight that fact. You may have to do some things that would seem outlandish in any other context (such as touting the environmental benefits of the Lambo or Nissan Titan), but your explanation will really turn heads.

How have you incorporated disruptive thinking in your own work? What examples have you seen in your field? Ever had a disruptive thinking experience go south? Sound off in the comments!