Are You a Disruptive Hero?

Monica E. Biggs That's the question that  Bill Jensen, whose book Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results was named one of the Breakthrough Ideas for 2010 by the Harvard Business Review, asked 40 of us who gathered in Lake George, New York, for the 94th Silver Bay Leadership Conference.  Bill has spent the past year or so interviewing 100 of these disruptive heroes around the world. According to his website (where you can watch the video interviews), he considers them:

Disruptive because they are proving conventional wisdom wrong

Heroes because they are changing the rules of the game, for the better

Great because they helped to change us all for the better

Each interview starts with the question "What makes you" The answers are varied and inspiring. He has talked with people like:

  • Cinda Boomershine, a self-described eternal optimist. Cinda heads one of the fastest-growing handbag and accessories companies, which profitably makes all its products in the United States. 
  • Caterina Fake, cofounder of Flickr, one of the most popular photo management and sharing applications. As a child, Caterina refused to take direction and insisted on doing things her own way.
  • Marco De Rossi, founder of OilProject, an Italian-based online school where all the classes are free and all the teachers are volunteers. Marco was so nearsighted as a child that he was more comfortable in front of a computer screen than on a soccer field, so he began programming when he was five years old.

Out of these amazing interviews, Bill pulled 20 lessons that can serve as a primer for aspiring disruptive heroes. I daresay that everyone in every organization should be leaning into these lessons if we are to do our best work. (Among other activities during the session, Bill asked us to pick out the lesson that scared us most. More than one of them freaked me out!) Here are a few of them:

  • Everyone must become a triage master. Read the situation quickly and take decisive action.
  • Everyone must be aggressive with their ideas and beliefs. Audacity matters.
  • Everyone must fail more, fail faster.  Test, fail, iterate, iterate, iterate, iterate.
  • Everyone must embrace revolutionary change.  Tinkering and managing are necessary but insufficient. 
  • Everyone must embrace endless cycles of complexity.
  • Everyone must constantly simplify. Everyone who works is in the business of friction reduction (a.k.a. reducing waste).
  • Everyone must put themselves on the line. Accountability for everything matters.
  • Everyone must let go of their “pets.“ Your favorite project/product/service is being disrupted.  You must be the one to declare it dead and build a new one.
  • Everyone must have a mentor half their age. Those causing the biggest disruptions are (at least) half your age. 
  • Everyone must leap before the net appears. Security and safety nets are gone forever.
  • Everyone must pay it forward. We are all dependent on our community.
  • No one should accept tools that don't put a ding in the universe. Many work tools and structures suck (a lot).
  • No one should worry about what others think. Be you.  Always push in the direction of who you really are.  Don't apologize for that. 

Bill closed with a parting provocation: "YOUR job is being reinvented NOW by somebody in the world, so what are you going to do to thrive in a world where disruptive change is an everyday event?" That kept most of the group buzzing well into the evening!

*In an email with me, Bill asked me to note that his ideas in this blog represent preliminary findings and are subject to change.