Rebecca Priebe

Disruptor

a person or thing that prevents something, especially a system, process, or event, from continuing as usual or as expected:

Unless you aren’t in any sort of business or technology field and/or you live under a rock, I’m sure you have heard the term disruption as it is the new and almost passé trend in design technology. Every company wants to be or to hire disruptors but do they really? I’m not so sure.

Let’s say I have a very, very close friend who is a disruptor — quite literally accused of being disruptive at her most recent job. It wasn’t meant as a compliment. It was said in a heated moment when it was obvious the collaboration between the two parties involved was strained at best. When it happened she thought to herself, “isn’t that a good thing?”

Ok, the friend is me. It’s not the first time it’s happened and it may or may not be the last. I am debating right now whether to go live in a remote village somewhere or give it another go, depending on my mood and how much I’ve had to drink.

The life of a disruptor is not easy.

You don’t always end up being Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King, Jr. Sometimes the humans you disrupt get angry and tell you to piss off. Or sometimes you try so hard that you give up and stop going to work then refuse to answer the phone even though you have several months left on your contract with a large tech company.

You devour books with hope calling out the crap the people you admire went through to finally become the recognized leaders in their fields. You peruse articles with regret about how you should never burn a bridge. How can one be disruptive, fail and not burn a bridge? Try.

Humans are adverse to change, disruption is the igniting of change.

In my most recent position, I worked as a C level executive in a startup technology company where almost the entire board were conservative, English and all were men. I am female. I look like I am in my early 30’s (even though I’m quite a bit older than that). I am not conservative. I am passionate. And I am American. AND I am a disruptor. At the risk of sounding completely prejudicial, it was a bit difficult…for everyone.

It didn’t end well…or did it?

It ended with me departing the position and after the dust settled the predominate thought in my head was ‘what the hell happened?’. The CEO was right, I was disruptive, that’s what happened. I ignited change in the organization. I pushed for empowerment over control, for innovation over stagnation, I expected to be respected and trusted and when it didn’t happen, I pushed harder.

I ignited change.

I saw that in the aftermath, the women in the organization had more power, the product team were more engaged in their work, the company was in a better place as a whole. It didn’t work out for me to stay but I made a positive impact on the company and more importantly, the people. I prevented things from continuing as usual. I now have more confidence in their ability to succeed and become profitable together.

I’m working on the whole ‘end well’ part which seems to be rather tricky at times, but as the folks in Silicon Valley say “Fail fast. Learn quick.” I figure the better I get at failing, the more I will succeed.

So, go on you, be disruptive. You might not become a hero in modern society — you might even end up unemployed, but don’t let that discourage you from disrupting the status quo if your true intention is to make things better.