As children, we’re told again and again not to be disruptive. To be quiet in class, to sit still and follow the rules, and to learn to work like the teacher wants us to, rather than the way that makes sense to us. And while there’s certainly some value in learning how to work within a system, if you really want to stand out in business, you’ve got to learn how to do things differently.
It’s so tempting to just stick your toe in to the business world — to put up a website that looks like other people’s websites, to try to hedge your language and your thoughts so that you won’t put off potential customers, and to try to copy the successful people — but this is one of the main reasons why so many businesses fail. They are too scared of loosing clients that they try to water themselves down to appeal to everyone, but this has the opposite effect. You end up being ‘bleh’, vanilla (without the pods) and a cookie cutter version of everyone else so you don’t really appeal to anybody.
I’ve built my entire career out of being disruptive. Being different. Being me.
When I started out, I was the only licensed female boxing manager in the entire country, then I went on to work with Sir James Dyson, at the time, an unknown inventor who disrupted an entire industry.
Think about how different things would be if I had followed the normal path — graduated with my Economics degree, went to work in the ‘City’, and then dutifully worked my way up the corporate ladder. I might have been just as successful financially, but no way would I have had as many rich experiences – or as much fun.
Being strategically disruptive is especially important now. When working in the context of the Internet-based world, you have amazing opportunities to try out new things and to get in touch with markets that would have been totally inaccessible before. But this also means that you’re now competing with literally the rest of the world.
Many people think that the answer is to be as shocking, loud, and attention grabbing as possible. But that’s not sustainable. It’s also way too obvious. People shouting “Hey look at me!” might get some views, but they won’t get much business.
So, don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you should make problems or do crazy things just for the hell of it. I am saying you need to be different.
The key here is to be strategic in your disruption; what are the areas of your business that you could really do differently to other people. Where could you add your magic sauce. So what you need to do is to identify the key situations in which it’s important for you to be disruptive and where it plays to your natural strengths. For instance, you should never try to be anybody other than yourself in your writing or the positioning of your business. That kind of authenticity is disruptive in itself and it’s also extremely refreshing in a world of mediocre, ‘me-too’ businesses.
You need learn to pick your battles — but those you do choose, you need to fight to win.
For instance, when I was publishing my first book I knew from day one what I wanted the cover to look like: I wanted it to be white. And my publishers were equally convinced from day one that they did not want the cover to be white, because they felt that a white book cover wouldn’t work well with the branding they had in mind.
I won the cover argument by being totally straightforward with them and telling them that it was so important, it was a dealbreaker for me — but also by bending over backwards to make life easy for them in basically every other respect. So, as you can see, I wasn’t being a pain in the arse to be gratuitously disruptive. I made sure that I was one of the best, easiest authors they could work with, aside from the few things that I wouldn’t bend on. 🙂 We ended up selling a ton of books, so I would like to think they were right to put that trust in me.
All right, your turn. Where could you be more disruptive in your life? And what are you going to do about it?