When most of us were school kids, we could get sent to the principal’s office or worse for being “disruptive.” The label took a variety of forms, but in all cases was frowned upon-“going against the grain” was a bad thing because Americans were convinced the grain was the only way to go-sometimes the only alternative to the highway.
If you watch the iconic TV shows of the 50’s-60’s era, such as The Big Valley, you can definitely see American Moralism on display. Following the rules is good, those who don’t are “outlaws.” The list goes on-Perry Mason, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best. Have we lost our morality? I don’t think so-what I do believe is that, mainly due to technology, we have a scope of possibilities that could not even have been dreamed of in that earlier age. We still have rules, but the game is bigger, and allows for disruptive behavior within the rules.
What is “disruptive” and how is it different from “innovative?” Disruptive is not just a new way to look at or do things- it is a radical change that you make which changes how others do things- or changes the world as we know it. OK, so if I add bacon to a doughnut, that’s innovative. But it hardly is going to change the fate of the rest of the doughnut world if we don’t copy it. If I am first to figure out how to sell pizza by the slice, that’s disruptive.
Shep Hyken, in an article on Forbes.com entitled, “How Amazon Competes Against Wal-Mart and Every Other Retailer,” points out that Amazon actually doesn’t compete with Wal-Mart; it paves its own way to gain market share by being disruptive. Some examples are Amazon Prime, Amazon Dash, and the millions of emails it sends telling you if you liked that, then how about this?
There are other success stories that are or have the potential to be disruptive. Inditex and Uniqlo are disruptive in totally changing the way you look at fashion and shopping for fashion; they and other retailers like Primark have totally disrupted the world of retail by changing the way consumers view fashion, brand and value. Shirt manufacturer Untuckit took a simple idea of creating a shirt that changes your look by allowing you to wear your shirt outside your pants without looking stupid-actually looking great. Underwear manufacturer Tommy John noticed the problems with mens underwear today and created a tee shirt that doesn’t leach out as well as underwear bottoms that don’t crawl up. Apple, Facebook, Google are all disruptors. Aren’t these just innovations? I say no, because they force other manufacturers as well as consumers to change behavior or actions-disruptive.
On a global scale, China aims to be disruptive by serious efforts to become a leader, not a follower, in AI and other areas. Shaun Rein predicted it years ago in his book, “The End of Copycat China.” He was prescient; few really saw it until now. This should be scary to us because they have the money and the infrastructure to do it. If they are successful, it will have significant effect on the balance of global economic and political soft power-not to mention creating jobs in a China economy where low-cost manufacturing is not growing. It will expand the middle class, reward those who have gone to university, and grow domestic buying power. By being disruptive.
US companies must embrace disruption as a guiding principle both in their business model and hiring practices. Generally, on the famous bell curve of fashion/trend, small companies are the innovators at the bottom beginning of the curve and the large companies pick up when the trend becomes mass marketable, as it reaches near the top. That doesn’t have to be. In fact, in this rapidly changing world, it better not be- because the time frame of this bell curve has shrunk so much that there is no time to react. Even the word react implies “act again.” Today’s large retailers or brands do not have time or leeway to react- they need to act, first. Proact. Preempt. Disrupt. In fact, large companies can gain the upper hand in the race for disruption because they have the money and resources to do so, much more than startups. IF they embrace change and disruption as a mantra. The alternative to that change of paradigm is not promising.
In hiring, these companies should forget their narrow job descriptions and narrow-minded views of them. Start hiring people, not resumes. I am totally sure that, if they really commit to change, hiring a disruptor with little or no experience in the technical aspects of the job will be more successful than adding another cow to the herd. Disruptors are not loners-people are inspired by and want to follow them. Take Steve Jobs.
On a personal note-when I was young, I was one of those disruptive individuals who would not take no for an answer-shit disturber. I still am (read some more articles in this blog and you will see what I mean). It makes me very happy to see that my character can now be viewed as an attractive asset.
For companies and the US, it is disrupt or be disrupted. Hire a shit disturber today! The business world will be a better and more exciting place.