My best friend took offense at a comment I made the other day about disruption.  I honestly can’t remember what the conversation was about except that I used the “d” word and she nailed me.

“Disruption is bad.  You seem to be using it to mean something good,” she said.

She’s in the healthcare field and, for her, disruption IS bad.  Disrupt a medical operation and no one will be having a good day.  I get it.  But, in technology, disruption is used as a defining term.  Startups want to disrupt an industry.  Older companies want to disrupt their competition.  But, what does it mean, really?

Disruption means to challenge.  The iPhone disrupted the cell phone industry because it challenged the notion that a phone is for making calls.  Now that same device allows us to take pictures, text, email, play games, surf the web.  And our use of it to actually make calls is decreasing.  Internet companies challenged the traditional newspaper and many of the traditional ones are now out of business.

The good news is you, too, can disrupt by challenging the status quo.  I tend to challenge all things technical.  I believe great, high performing teams actually require it.  Sit in a room with a bunch of technology architects reviewing a design document and you’ll hear enough challenges for a lifetime.  But the software will be better for it.  Try it with your own teams, regardless of your career discipline.  It doesn’t have to be tough or scary, just open dialog around other ways to do things.  You’ll wind up with a better product, idea, company, whatever.  You’ll innovate.  You’ll disrupt.

I will warn you, though, that challenging people can make them mad.  A vendor who I work with and have become friends with told me over drinks a few weeks ago that he didn’t like me very much when he first met me.  I was horrified.  I try to make sure I challenge in a non-confrontational way.

“Why?”  I asked.  “What did I do?”

“You challenged everything we did,” he said.  “Now I see that it made us better and improved our work product.  But we didn’t like you at first.”

Hmmm.  I can live with that.

a mostly well-informed, technically savvy, sometimes extroverted introvert

3 Comment on “Disrupt = Challenge

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