You have permission to disrupt. In fact, you not only have permission, you have a duty to disrupt, and the cost of not disrupting and forcing innovation may cost you your livelihood. There is a labor force just waiting to take consistent, repetitive, mindless work and do it for a fraction of the cost.
While I’m not going off on a Godinian rant, I will agree that we experience years of training from the classroom to the workplace that reinforces the notion that “compliant” behavior is rewarded. After years in a controlled classroom of public education, we are taught that the “bad kids” disrupt and the “good kids” follow the rules. You can only guess into which camp I fell. Without making bold claims of “training for the industrial workforce,” simple rules of efficiency suggest that the classroom must maintain a steady rhythm, which has no room for variations. Then when I finally entered the workforce many of my colleagues that proved to be most competent and compliant were promoted.
Competence itself is a funny word. For me, the definition of competence had more to do with the counter-definition of “incompetence,” which was used with synonymous disdain as moron or idiot. While some definitions of “competent” may overstate the qualification, the latin root competo suggests that the word is rooted in adequacy, suitability, and appropriateness. Competency is not some bar of mastery or even quality, it is really just a minimum threshold of adequacy. Competency alone is outsourced, but I believe that the roots of disruption (or innovation) are based in competency.
So, while Seth Godin may disparage competency, I don’t believe that disruption may occur without first being competent. Just like a jazz musician breaks the rules, she must first know the rules that are being broken, otherwise the melodies are just guesses. True disruption may only occur after one is first competent, so disruption is not incompetence it is really super-competence.
Why Disrupt Now?
I’m not saying anything new here. Since 2001, I expected the American business culture to undergo massive disruption. Then in 2005, when Thomas Friedman released The World is Flat, I thought that disruption on a wide scale would really take hold, but surprisingly, there are relatively few innovators disrupting their cultures and even fewer companies disrupting their industries. The news that business as usual is closed has flashed, yet we seem to go down the same dangerous road.
Once a process “that a monkey could do” is established, then a monkey can do it. We’re not monkeys. We are creative. Doing more-better is not enough. We must rethink why and how we are approaching our jobs, our businesses and our industries. Otherwise, competency and technology will steal away our livelihood like piranha.
To modify Lou Holtz’s popularized phrase, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow,” if you aren’t disrupting, you’re dying. If we are to reverse the trend in our workplace of being replaced by lower paid solutions whether human or technology, then we must bring irreplaceable value.
What Does Disruption Look Like?
- Ask dumb questions like “why are we doing it this way?” ‘Because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ is NOT an answer.
- Good enough is a death sentence. Getting by with competent work is being outsourced in one form or another everyday.
- Ideas are organic, let them pollinate. Are you thinking about supply chain? What can you learn by observing nature? Watching an ant colony may teach you more than hours of logistics lectures. Or, maybe ask, “What Would a Philosopher Do?”
- Dream for goodness’ sake. Let other people say “no.” Disrupters ask, “what if?”
- Dare to Disagree. Check out this TED talk:
Why do I care?
I’m not a doomsday prepper by any means, but we (westerners) are teetering dangerously close on irrelevance. The old way is facing extinction. Traditional notions of happiness, careers, significance and the American dream are changing. Theories of the “decline of America” and all similar theories are typically rooted in some agenda. Personally, I believe that we are in a unique period of history of theoretical basis shifts in religion, science, politics and economics. There are so many changes occurring simultaneously that any one definition fails. To me, there are too many variables to make any single prediction about the next hundred years other than to say change is imminent. Looking to the past, however, it is clear that America has a history of challenging constraints and the status quo. We are born disrupters, and leaning into this strength is a critical role to our seat on the global stage.
If you would like to explore these ideas further, I would strongly recommend reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
and Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?