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Kevin Yates

Mitchell Pheonix

Managing Director

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Er, what does disruption actually mean?


“I want to hear some new ideas that will be disruptive, that will alter my perspective.”

It seems that ‘disruptive’ is the new buzzword. I hear it used as a description of what people seek from road shows, seminars and training events. It bothers me and it may bother you too that the commentators might be passive in the process, awaiting the arrival of the idea that will disrupt them whether they are welcoming or not.

Disruptions arrive in many forms from those irritating interruptions, that change in procedure, the unfathomable new tax regime – all of these shape up to give ‘disruption’ a bad name.

But the simple routines are constantly being disrupted be it new train timetables, new parking layouts, changes to working hours, road works and so on. Our lives are full of this and we are suitably adapted as a species to cope with it, but why should we welcome it?

While the idea is admirable, the person who made the comment above was a senior executive of 20 years experience in a fast moving environment. They attend frequent events on a range of subjects and the likelihood of them hearing something totally new was slim at best.

In addition they make the common mistake in thinking that knowledge of a topic is disruptive enough to ensure they become more effective as an executive. An example of knowledge being passive is to be found at the swimming lesson: To know how to swim is not disruptive but, for the non-swimmer, getting into a swimming pool is. Knowledge is not disruptive but application of that knowledge can be.

We have to be actively disruptive to be successful, both personally and as a venture.

Learning to swim or ride a bike profoundly connects us with the concept of disruption. No amount of theory could prepare any of us for the experience of sinking under water or falling off a bike, it is not knowledge of the idea that is disruptive, it is the activity.

We persevere because we are motivated to learn and master the skill, in this respect; disruption is welcome and ultimately leads to success.

Such profound disruption has parallels in our working lives. Fifty years ago this would have been robotics, air travel, emerging markets, while more recent global disruption took the form of the smartphone, its slew of Apps, and the learning needed to exploit the associated connectivity.

The smartphone has changed the way we work and has changed the way the whole world works. 

We need to be welcoming and mobilised.

And so it is in all forms of learning and progress. First the disruption to our existing thinking and routines followed by the glimmer of understanding that feeds the motivation to learn and master the new skill or concept. Knowledge and understanding are passive tools and only the application of both can the behaviour of executives be disrupted and allowing them be disruptive in their business. 

Why should we seek out disruption?

All business progress has roots in disruption in some form, from the horseless carriage to the smartphone.

Such progress was wrought from the status quo, often in the face of resistance by people who were unmotivated. It was the application of ideas that created the advantage not the idea itself.

This type of positive disruption has to be actively sought out and welcomed. Individuals with applied ambition welcome disruptive ideas and direct their energies at making something of them.

This is not a passive process, any advantages to be had will be acquired by individuals learning from their experiences, making mistakes and having the will to overcome them.

Next time a delegate returns from training and is asked: “How did you enjoy the event?” welcome the response “it was interesting and will be disruptive”. 

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Kevin Yates

Managing Director

Read more from Kevin Yates

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