You say “disruption” like it’s a bad thing

Disruptive people often get a bad rep. There are so many online discussions, books written and management to school programmes developed to help us cope, deal and manage disruptive people. Disruptive people are often labelled as ‘difficult’, ‘intimidating’ or ‘troublemakers’ and only few become successful as they are often overlooked for promotion in many large organisations for fear of rocking the boat.


The important thing to note and many people fail to recognise is, there are two types of disruption. The first is disruptive behaviour that can seriously damage the business operations and decrease employee morale. The other is disruptive thinking – a way of thinking that produces an unconventional solution. The biggest misconception is that both types of disruption are one and the same.

We all have some rebel spirit in us.

I admit I can be disruptive at times. Sure, I can rile some people up in various capacities, but what is fundamentally wrong in asking “What if..?” My approach is if I am invited to participate in solving a problem, I better ensure I make a valuable contribution towards the task. It is the time to turn everything upside down and see if it looks better the other way up. I trust myself enough to stand by ideas that can make a difference, adopting a way of thinking that can turn expectations upside down and bring them to the next level.

All around us, we are surrounded by stuff; and more people creating more stuff. One thing is for sure, the stuff that consumes our lives is built on the logic of the past. We need to rethink the habits that have made us successful in the past, and challenge the conventional wisdom and models that have defined our world. It is not about how to spot and react to disruptive changes around us, but to be the disruptive change, ourselves.

It is being able to hold yourself to the highest standard and be willing to challenge the status quo wherever we are, whatever we do. There is no better time to challenge the status quo than right now. Winners in the next decade will not be those that produce and implement ideas that are not easily replicated by others, but creating new definitions to old practices – differentiating between the deep, meaningful change and the shallow, superficial novelty.

If we were truly going to do something revolutionary, we need to adopt an attitude which is comfortable with the notion that the world will not embrace us, that we do not require the approval of our peers and will stand alone in this journey. We must have the courage to stand up and do what we think is correct. We need to think what no one else is thinking, and do what no one else is doing.

 Disruptive thinking needs a well-thought out process.

Disruptive thinking develops through five-stages:

Start with a wild question.

Create a hypothesis – “I wonder what would happen if…” It is better to be wrong at the start, to be right at the end. To truly create game changing ideas, shake things up. Crazy ideas are good and should be stretched as far as we can. We need to avoid clichés. It is not about looking at minor tweaks because we are programmed to filter things we already know. We have to free ourselves from seeing the way things are right now to have any chance of seeing what they might become.

From The National Inventors Hall of Fame :
As early as 1983 Chuck Hull was developing lamps for UV-curable resins in UVP Inc., then a small manufacturer of UV products, when he first came up with his idea for 3D printing. His method used UV light to cure and bond a photopolymer resin which was built up layer by layer. While at UVP, he made a deal with his manager: he would continue working toward the company’s goals and products by day and would work after hours on his idea to develop a machine to speed up the prototyping process. It was through the experimentation with various materials that Hull realised that thousands of these thin layers would stack to create three-dimensional objects. 3D printing, an innovation that came out of curiosity, is propelling the next industrial revolution. Today, 3D printing is much more than a tool that speeds up model and prototyping in manufacturing. It also allows for customisation and is frequently used to build consumer products and parts.  Additionally, professionals in a variety of fields recognise the potential and utility of 3D printing, creating artificial limbs, medical devices, artwork, aircraft components, and clothing.  Professionals in the culinary arts, forensics, architecture, archeology, and more, are also applying 3D printing in their fields.

Define its role.

Hypothesis must be backed up by utility, and be purposeful. We need to look at the real-world context to see how this hypothesis can exist in. We need to have a bit of a rebel spirit to want to change the way things are done, and not do things just because we’ve been told that’s how it should be done. Will our ideas have the power to influence and shape behaviours?

From :
Zipcar founders Antje Danielson and Robin Chase, both 42, met when their children attended the same kindergarten class. Chase, a stay-at-home mom who had a master’s degree in business administration, wanted the flexibility that came from having her own business, while Danielson was looking into how other countries reduced car trips for a Harvard energy-research project. So, one afternoon in October of 1999, Danielson took a chance and told Chase about her car-sharing idea. Danielson found America’s growing interest in environmentalism and conscious consumers wanting to drastically reduce reliance on single-owner cars, and thought that a company founded on that principle could be a lucrative one. Their research showed that the car-sharing market was poised to explode and the company’s winning tagline fitting nicely in the marketplace: “Wheels when you want them.”At time of launch, the duo founded the company with just $68 in the bank. Today, Zipcar has offices in more than 26 American cities and 860,000 members across the US, Austria, Canada, Spain, and the UK. In 2013, car-rental giant Avis bought Zipcar for $491 million. And as the two women predicted over 14 years ago, Zipcar has redefined car ownership perceptions and created a new way urbanites commute

Establish a value.

Transforming this compelling opportunity to a commercial offering. Ideas that stir the imagination inspire a sense of possibility but for it to truly take-off, we need to identify its demand, opportunity and value. It is about unearthing a desire or a market that no-one thought was there.

From The Economist
WikiLeaks is the demonstration that a small group of people with a powerful idea can harness technology and affect large institutions. In WikiLeaks’ case it was the idea to aggregate state and corporate secrets by setting up an online electronic drop box where whistleblowers around the world could anonymously upload sensitive and suppressed information. These secrets – that may be bought or sold – were then stored on servers around the world, beyond the reach of governments or law enforcement, then released worldwide on the Internet. The radical transparency leaked documents have imposed on governments across the world has helped raise the heat on some shady practices (in a good way) while also destroying relationships that were hard won through tact and diplomacy. Regardless how we see Julian Assange as a guiding light or evil genius, the birth of WikiLeaks is an incredible idea that has shaken up the foundations of estemeed  insitutions. It has not only redefined journalism, but has also been reinvigorated the worlds of diplomacy and national security. 

The offer of a unique solution.

It’s great to have good ideas, but it’s even better to have a plan and the dedication necessary to make those ideas a reality.

For example, who knew people would be so interested in talking with each other in a social network? initially started up as a social network for students but interest in the site soon grew exponentially when registration was accessible to the public. The thing that immediately attracted users to Facebook, is that friends who meet in real life now could communicate with each other online. It was something new. Today, Facebook’s 1.35bn user base would have been unforeseen by anyone and only by a few who believed in its potential power. 

The “Sell-In”.

Converting an idea into a reality is an extremely difficult task. There is a fundamental human challenge of selling a disruptive idea, because the most easily conceived ideas are the most familiar ones, the ones we experience most often. Change – afterall – is hard to swallow.  Some of us like change, others despise the concept. Simplicity is the key to selling the vision for a disruptive idea. Making it easy for someone on the “outside” to understand what we are trying to accomplish will create engagement and increase our probability of expanding buy-in for the idea.

To illustrate the concept of selling a disruptive idea, we can draw upon two great sources of inspiration: Apple iPad launch and Everett Rogers’ theory of diffusion of innovation. To read the case study in detail, click here.

Everett Rogers - Sell wave of disruptive ideas

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