Disruptive Heroes: Leadership for a New Era

To develop the capacity to think and act beyond the boundaries that limit our effectiveness…

That’s more than just part of CCL’s mission. It’s a clarion call for everyone who works. To be the best we can be, we need to see beyond our limiting beliefs. We need to get really good at constantly learning and unlearning.

But what if your To Do list went kaflooey a dozen times before you had your first cup of coffee? What then…? How do you unleash all your potential, thinking beyond perceived boundaries, and get everything done that needs to get done?

Call for Disruptive Heroes

To master continuous disruption, you have to be disruptive.

We need leaders who build cultures that favor disruptive heroes: where everyone’s job is to figure out how to benefit from, or take advantage of, continuous disarray, disorder and disruption.

We need leaders who do not see constant disruptions as threats to what’s already been planned. Instead, they embrace that disorder as new opportunities.

That’s my biggest takeaway having spent the past couple years with 100 great disruptive heroes — all of whom refused to accept the status quo. From CEOs like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer; to tech mavens like the founders of StumbleUpon, Flickr, Wikipedia, Meetup and Crowdcast; to Jon Landau, the producer of Titanic and Avatar, two of the highest grossing films ever; and more.

What I found is that disruptive heroes don’t just ride waves of constant change — they do so by either being disruptive themselves or by actively sponsoring and mentoring those who will upset everyone’s apple cart.

Which is exactly the kind of leaders we need today.

Disruptive Heroes as Leaders

I found 25 distinct habits that disruptive heroes leverage. There is no perfect shortlist. As everyone’s circumstances and levels of courage and boldness are different, each leader and manager has to develop their own personal shortlist. Here is a sampling of the 25 habits…

  • Question Everything

Today’s digital revolution is creating far more than technological changes. Every assumption behind every activity needs to be rethought and reimagined. Boldly going where no one’s gone before. That takes a special kind of leader, asking the questions no one else is asking.

Jamie Heywood exemplifies this kind of leader: “How would you design a healthcare system if there was no such thing as doctors or if intellectual property were not so tied to chemical solutions [new drugs]?”

Heywood is reinventing healthcare through his firm PatientsLikeMe, which bypasses the normal double-blind approach to medical research and drug development — adopting a crowdsourcing approach. Each patient shares their personal data (symptoms, treatments, etc.) in an open forum, which results in patients, doctors and drug companies learning more, learning faster.

In today’s crazy disruptive times, we need leaders whose ability to question everything leads to completely new approaches to wicked problems.

  • Kill What You Cherish Most

“You have to learn how to kill your baby,” says serial-entrepreneur Bettina Hein, founder of Pixability, which helps businesses build sales through video. “It’s hard, but you have to personally embrace that your work will be disrupted by someone else anyway. So you have to do it first.”

We need leaders like Hein to help all of us let go of our babies —insisting that we disrupt our own work before someone does it for us.

  • Have Lots of Affairs (On Your Boss)

If all of your earned income is as someone else’s employee, you are among the walking dead. In today’s highly disruptive era, everyone who works must also be an entrepreneur. Everyone!

And yet most of bosses still expect 110% of your time to be dedicated to their company. We need leaders who will change that.

Like Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, a breakthrough publishing, media and education firm. “We’re a company that turns our employees into entrepreneurs,” he declares. “Twenty percent of everyone who joins Mindvalley becomes an entrepreneur within two years. That is phenomenal!”

How many of today’s leaders see their role as helping their employees become entrepreneurs? Not a lot! And yet that is the future of leadership and personal development within corporate mentoring and training programs.

  • Never Accept Dingless Tools

Apple’s founder Steve Jobs once famously said that he wanted to create tools that would put a ding in the universe. The global move to embrace smartphones and tablets means that billions of people now have exactly those kinds of tools.

That is, unless you’re dependent upon your employer for some or all of your worktools. The problem is that most corporate tools and infrastructures are corporate centered (designed for company success, but not necessarily for individual success). Few companies have made the shift to ensure that corporate infrastructures are as user-centered and easy to use as the average smartphone.

In 2012, the Jensen Group completed its research on Work 2.0: Ten Year Report, a study of how companies have fared in the shift from Work 1.0, where the emphasis was on organizational productivity, to Work 2.0, which is about far greater personal productivity. While technology is already racing past 2.0 levels, many employers have yet to make the necessary shifts on issues of power, control, risk and trust in order to leverage today’s technological capabilities.

Among the Work 2.0: Ten Year Report findings:

  • About 30% of us are still stuck in Work 1.0 environments
  • About 50% of us work in the weeds — a very confusing mess of 1.0 rules and tools and 2.0 tools

Those two percentages combined mean that at least three quarters of us are being pulled down — our output is greatly hampered.

We desperately need leaders who get this. Disruptive hero Andrew McAfee, principle research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at MIT, is passionate on this point. “We have never had better tools to let people manifest their particular spark of genius, and it’s time to get out of their way.”

We Need To Start Building Communities of Disruptive Heroes

Few leaders can be disruptive on their own. For most of us, it’s too risky to push disruption by ourselves. The most disruptive idea of all is that we are all interconnected, we are all dependent on each other.

It takes a village to be disruptive.

Where to start? Change the conversation within your village, your tribe.

Make it safe for everyone on your team to speak the unspeakable. To be bold. To shake up the status quo on a daily basis. Within your sphere of influence, make it safe for disruptive heroes to emerge. Create the space where disruptive magic can happen.

We need that kind of leadership. Now. We need you. Now.

• • • • • •

Bill Jensen’s new book, Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic, based on interviews with 100 disruptive heroes, came out TODAY.  See http://disruptmovement.com/. Email: bill@simplerwork.com.
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About Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen’s mission is to make it easier for people to get stuff done. Harvard Business Review, CNBC and Fast Company have called Bill today’s foremost expert on work complexity, helping people to do less and accomplish more. He’s an internationally acclaimed bestselling author and speaker who is known for extremely useful content, and his passion for working smarter, not harder. In 1992 Bill launched an ongoing study, The Search for a Simpler Way, and has interviewed and surveyed over 500,000 people around the world about what really matters and how they get everything done. That research has supported all of his previous books including, Hacking Work, What’s Your Life’s Work? and Simplicity. He is President and CEO of The Jensen Group, a change consulting firm he founded in 1985. Photo credit: Bob Karp
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5 Responses to Disruptive Heroes: Leadership for a New Era

  1. avatar ashutosh says:

    Disruptive by definition is not normal. This type of leadership will throw up unconventional heros from nowhere . All for being disruptive. Most of the traits listed are common traits found in criminals ,too. I am not trying to sound negative but most Dons have these traits. Will they qualify as leaders? Obama had almost most of these killings.
    Yes in today’s disruptive times we need a disruptive leader. No doubts . Will the society accept them in governance ?
    It’s correct to site examples of corporate success but may not be true always.
    It’s a bold disruptive idea. Nothing is wrong untill it fails.

    • avatar Bill Jensen says:

      Thank you for those insights. But I think you may have read another blog post, not mine.

      a) The point of the post is that disruption is the new normal. There is no more stable normal. Gone. Forever. Time to deal with that.

      b) You are correct that mafia Dons use the tactics I describe. But so do the good guys. I know this first hand. In the early ’80s I sat on the Grand Jury that indicted the Dapper Don, John Gotti. The prosecutor was a little-known go-getter by the name of Rudy Giuliani. I watched both of them use the tactics I described in my post and in my book. Moral: Both good guys and bad guys can win by being disruptive.

      c) In government and society and business and everywhere, we need more unconventional heroes thrown up from nowhere. Unconventional times call for unconventional solutions and unconventional heroes.

      d) As in all things in life, balance is crucial. I close my book Disrupt!, with “Honoring Non-Disruptors: Anchors. Voices of reason. Proven wisdom. We need that too. Not everyone is called to be a disruptor. Some of us are called to be anchors. You do not have to be the disruptor. You can choose to be the anchor, the voice of reason. But both roles must figure out how to benefit from, and take advantage of, and thrive in the midst of continuous disarray, disorder and disruption. Because, regardless of your role, the time in which you live is an age of continuous personal disruption.”

  2. avatar Caroline says:

    I agree completely. Without disruptive heroes we wouldn’t have Apple, Facebook, Amazon, or Yahoo!. We need to be our own person, and question everything. Great post!

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