You Want Disruption? Can You Handle it?

johnny cashI’m on a panel tomorrow at the Mobile Future Forward event in Seattle. The panel discussion is on disruption, which we met on Friday to discuss over a quick conference call.

I actually don’t think a lot about disruption, which is not to say I don’t look for it. I just try to avoid being disrupted because you never realize the extent to which it’s happening until it’s already happened. The corollary to that is you really can’t plan on making it happen either.

This is why I don’t think about disruption. The great case studies for disruption in our business are all a result of executing really well against an idea that was well conceived and not impaired by compromise. Disruption happens when you don’t have anything to lose, and in every case disruption is the result of bringing together extraordinary people unified by a sense of purpose. Put another way, disruption is not a strategy, it is a consequence.

Encumbent players in any market NEVER disrupt the market they are in. They have too much to lose by leading the way to a new normal and insist on compromise as a core value. You have all seen this happen a million times, new products that threaten the status quo are nipped and tucked in ways that take everything potentially special away from them. There is a civility in these efforts that precludes them from breaking out… they may be successful but they won’t be disruptive. Transformation is not disruption.

You want disruption in your business? Hire the right fucking people! Search out combative, difficult, and argumentative people who care in a very personal way about the vision and purpose of the effort. Teams are messy because people themselves are messy, don’t risk a mediocre outcome by hiring people who excuse mediocrity and have toned down their passion in order to fit in. Hire people who won’t compromise.

Not compromising is not the same as not changing your answer. Wendy Lea once gave me an unintended compliment that I cherish to this day when she said “you are so damn stubborn… (and after awkward moment of silence) but I’ve seen you change your mind on big things.” Of course, if you get new information that supports a better direction than you originally pursued, change your mind. There are no prizes for who is the purest and most dogmatic, therefore changing your position in support of the common purpose is not only practical, it’s being smart.

Here’s what I’m looking for in the people I want to hire:

  1. They take things personally: Success and failure isn’t a clinical, sterile outcome. It involves emotions and sense of caring that goes beyond a job.
  2. Relentlessly curious: Want to infuse new thinking and approaches in any effort? Seek out knowledge in the unlikely of places, talk to people who have already done it, and don’t be afraid to share the random.
  3. Direct and confrontational: Don’t mix words, say what you think and don’t waste anyone’s time by waiting. If something is borked, call it out! If something is working, shout it out and do more of it.
  4. Laugh at themselves: Humor is a powerful antitode for tension, even more so when it is directed at yourself. This ain’t bean ball and even though it’s a tough, high stakes business that asks a lot of people, we can still have fun doing it.
  5. All the usual stuff: Smart, experienced, hungry… yeah, all that, but the inescapable fact is that there are a lot fo smart, experienced, and hungry people. These three attibutes by themselves are no indicator of future success.