Leadership Is All About Change And Adaptability
Change agent. Entrepreneur. Innovator. Incubator. Good disruptor/friend Chris Heuer calls them "Work Hacks." Whatever you call them, disruptors the world over have similar traits. Good ones - the professionals - have learned skills that help their ideas become reality. Most disruptors often just feel frustrated that their ideas aren't taken seriously. The worst have a Cassandra Complex and just feel like they can see the future, but are unable to do anything about it.
We love disruptors, but only on the ‘other side’ - once their ideas are adopted and the market turns their way. If Steve Jobs had only gone "half in," he would have just been remembered as the "jerk that ran Apple AAPL +1.18% for a while." Being disruptive just ain’t enough. So, The First Rule Of Disruptive Fight Club is . . .
1. You Can't Help It
You cannot dissuade a disruptor from being a disruptor. You can’t keep a change agent down. It is in their DNA. I became self aware of my disruptive tendencies in the 8th grade. Every disruptor I have ever talked to indicates that they are born this way. But, 'just' being a person who naturally questions the status quo is like saying you will go into battle with just your wits. Even David needed a stone to conquer Goliath.
Being disruptive is not enough. A professional disruptor will arm themselves with the following: charisma, empathy, expertise/insight, doggedness, detachment (to defend against the attack of their ideas), and passion. Cannot say enough about passion. Real disruptors have an innate passion that helps them see their way through the tough times (or maybe that is just plain ole 'stubbornness.')
2. You Can Suppress It, But . . .
A disruptor can learn to suppress their disruptive tendencies if beaten down long enough by unreceptive leadership. But they always resurface. The moon will always rise and out they come. A professional disruptor knows that constant change or being that person to evoke constant change is . . . well, pretty annoying. They learn from experience that always pointing out flaws leads to a wildly unhappy life. Knowing when to disrupt is an important learned lesson for the disruptor.
3. It Always Starts The Same Way
The precursor to let everyone know what is coming is usually something like "Let me know if I am crazy" or "Did I miss something?" which is quickly followed by the "But why are we . . .?" question. The 'why' is the real heart of the matter - the big question. However, notice the 'we' in that question, as in "why are we . . .?" That is the disruptors learned behavior to attempt at being collaborative, at sharing ownership and responsibility. It doesn't matter how well it is couched, all the status quo will hear is "you are doing it wrong."
4. They Will Hate You For It
The status quo will resist the disruptor. This is actually what is supposed to happen. Real change is painful - for everyone, even when it is good for everyone. If we changed every time someone had an alternate suggestion, we would seldom make any progress. Resistance is necessary. It helps the disruptor frame their ideas and helps them showcase why real change is necessary.
Don't get me wrong - this whole process hurts. The disruptor feels persecuted, the status quo feels persecuted. It is ugly, but necessary. It is tilling a field. The ground doesn’t like it, the person with the hoe doesn’t like the labor in the hot sun. But seeds planted on top of soil don’t take. The painful disruption is necessary for growth.
5. You Better Have Your Facts Straight
Early in a disruptor's career, you may believe that the insight is enough. You may be correct in your thinking, your big idea. But being right is barely even a start. If you want to bring true change, a disruptor better know more than everyone else. Even if you are going outside the status quo, the organization, "the man who is trying to keep you down," -- even if you go off and make the change yourself like an good entrepreneur, you will still need collaborators, funding, suppliers, a team, or a group of confederates to help support you.
You wont win them over with ‘just’ an idea. You will win them over because you know more than anyone why and how your idea is better than what is in place. A professional disruptor comes to realize this - usually painfully from experience - that getting the idea in your head means you have a lot of work to do as you become the expert in this area. Otherwise, you are just that annoying person who pokes holes at everything.
6. Timing Is Everything
My good friend - and disruptor extraordinaire - Ted Rubin, often quips, "Being called 'ahead of your time' means you failed." This seems to run contrary to our idea of disruption. The 'person ahead of their time' is seen as a true innovator, the under-appreciated thought leader of the space. But what Ted has tapped into here is that disruption is about making change, not just recognizing it. A disruptor knows how to see it, how to convey the need to other, and how to make it happen.
If the timing is not right - the market is just not ready for you - the disruptor has to take on the added steps of making the market ready. They need to not only disrupt, but also move an entire market in their direction. If they are unable to do this, they are 'ahead of their time' and they have ultimately failed. Knowing when to disrupt is just as important as knowing what to disrupt.
7. Consider Yourself Lucky If You Are Ever Beloved
It usually ends badly for a disruptor. Oh, sure, we have storied examples of disruption of the professional who is now the vanguard of the industry, the sage of the space. But, if Jerry Maguire were not a movie, it would have ended with Jerry eking out an existence in an office above his garage with a close circle of friends knowing he was right, but his old colleagues would continue on with barely a dent in their successful trajectory. That sounds awful, right? But successful disruptors are rare because you only know about the few successful ones - but for every successful one, there are hundreds? thousands? more who never get their idea off the ground.
8. But None Of That Matters
Talk to any professional disruptor and ask them if they can or would like to change their DNA. Few will say ‘yes’ even if they could. Ask them if knowing that being a disruptor is a path toward scorn and ridicule will make them stop, few will change course. The fact is that a professional disruptor loves what they do and would not change direction. They see the world in a different way and through a different lens. They fully own the mindset of the disruptor. It is not what they do, but who they are.
9. You Can Always Spot Another Disruptor
Disruptors flock together. You can always spot another disruptor across a crowded room, conference, or party. You only need to hear them speak briefly on any subject, but their natural passion and ideas for change will quickly shine through. (If you are at a party and see two people in the corner who look like they are replaying some 3 Stooges routine, it is just the secret disruptor handshake . . . nothing to worry about.) Disruptors will seek out similar minded individuals. It is a lonely professional path and everyone needs a hand.
10. And Finally . . . We Are In An Age Of Accelerated Disruption. Phew!
Social media, tools, and technologies have enabled disruptors to band together and share ideas and practices. Ted adds “Not only does modern social media/tech allow disruptors to collaborate, it also allows them the ability to disrupt/collaborate to or with the masses, at scale; all the while engaging, interacting and building relationships. Therefore the return on that empowers their ability to disrupt.”
Companies are now more accepting of change – some are even making hiring decisions and investing in change. Our accelerated pace to address the needs of an ever changing market and ever changing customer means that organizations are now more amenable to the disruptor. Has their time come? Don't worry; they'll let you know.
Many thanks to collaborators and inspiration from Chris and Ted.
Follow Chris Heuer as Principal at AdHocnium.
This post oringinally appeared on Forbes.com