Here’s How Disruption Can Be Positive

Positive disruption was the theme at TEDxChange in 2013. Looking at the idea of a disruption as positive is itself disruptive.

Disrupt : to break, to break apart., to throw into disorder, to interrupt the normal course or unity of.

Is disruption positive or negative?

Most people would likely chime in “negative!”

Someone disrupting your internal monologue as you tap away at the computer. You are focused on solving an irritating problem, a spreadsheet formula glitch that’s driving you nuts.

You are cooking an evening meal after a long day and your dog and cat get into it. Maybe your 5-year-old decides she needs the dog’s water bowl for her castle.

Someone walks her dogs in your direction and you don’t care for, or are even terrified of, dogs. It is a nuisance, an inconvenience. It forces you into an uncomfortable space. You now have to engage when you don’t want to or are not prepared to.

A disruption breaks the flow of concentration, a tried-and-tested path to completing a task, or a habit you are auto-piloting through, while mulling over the issue at hand.

If you have ever taught a class or workshop, you may have had that one person in the audience. The one who constantly asks questions or interrupts with comments or groans at your suggestions for a training exercise. This person can interject so often that the material you want to cover is at risk of being missed. You have a responsibility to the other students. You feel irritated that you to have to stop to “entertain” this one person. Maybe you have to improvise to cover the content you had planned for. Or maybe you feel your confidence waning – “is everyone else not understanding and only this person’s brave enough to ask?”

Disruption, then, to most people is negative and unwelcomed. It delays us at the least. We have busy lives and we’ve been told time is money. Or we simply do not like change. Or the possibility of change.

The question here then – is disruption always negative?

Positive and negative are terms of duality. In this paradigm, we associate positive with the good stuff and negative with the bad stuff.  It really is perspective, though. In the bigger scheme of things, there are no positives or negatives. It is a yin yang flow.

The idea – disruption – is often unwelcome. But some disruption can be positive – even vital – catalyst for change.

Melinda Gates

How is disruption a positive thing?

Unforeseen happenings jolt us out of our routine or a planned execution of tasks. It creates the space and opportunity for us to pause.

What we do with that pause is illuminating. Do we rage? Do we take a deep breath? Maybe we continue on. Maybe we see this as a chance to look up and see where we are. Check if our compass still points true north. Perhaps we have strayed off course and we need to tweak, fine tune, or overhaul our plan.  You know what they say about the best-laid plans.

The new space may be uncomfortable and disconcerting. It may be pulling our focus onto something we would rather ignore. Sometimes that pull is forceful and abrupt. It takes courage to hang out in this space, to face the hill that takes us to the next plateau, the curve to the next spiral. In this space, we challenge the status quo, along with the assumptions, expectations, and limitations we have placed or have been placed for us.

Positive change comes from being outside our comfort zone.

Positive disruption is when we can use it to move towards where we want to be. They can offer new, previously unthought of, outlier ideas. We have blinkers on and our perspective can benefit from being expanded.

Ways to Have More Positive Disruptions

① Invite, Ignite, and Allow New Conversations and Perspectives

From a mindset of curiosity and respect, we can all agree to disagree. The gold is in between and the sum that is greater than the whole. Between two or more diverse perspectives lie many lessons, ahas, and impetus for more open-minded and expansive thinking and living. By being open to more perspectives, we can build a truer vision.

Leave your ego aside and have a real conversation. It is not about convincing people of your point of view, as much as sharing it. Putting it all on the table and looking at it, together. Juxtaposed.

Have you ever gotten into a conversation that turned awkward? Maybe angry and even friendship-breaking? And then you go deeper, delving in and unravelling mysteries. There is no need to convince the other person of your point of view. No ego-bashing. No name-calling. Invite people to your table and see how we can leverage on positive disruption.

That honest and raw conversation can let you get to the core of the issue by allowing new perspectives in to open up new possibilities that can improve the quality of life.

② Move Outside of the Self

A reason many people see any disruptions as negative is they feel these occurrences are an affront to them. That people deliberately cut them off in traffic or in the grocery line. Or that the student is deliberately testing them. This may or may not be true. To live from the belief that it is always true puts people ill at ease and leave them untrusting. Stress goes up, health goes down. It’s not a pretty nor enjoyable cycle of ups and downs.

See disruptions as friendly pokes from the universe to re-look at what’s going on, from a personal level to an organizational or systemic level. Especially if there is a pattern of disruptions. Looking inward to see why they are such a trigger can help release powerful underlying and stress-inducing beliefs. In this way, we are more able to benefit from positive disruption.

③ Live Fearlessly

Have the courage to look at disruptions in the eye and not crumble in face of change. Living fearlessly does not mean living without fear. Being fearless means not allowing fears to be the master.

This is a bold statement, a scary one even. Start small and be consistent. You don’t have to conquer your fear of heights by bungie jumping or sky diving. You could. You don’t have to quit your job today, and live off-grid. You could. In other words, living fearlessly is not necessarily one huge sweeping gesture. Or about flipping the bird at the system. It’s how we approach life in every way, every day. It’s not being triggered whenever we are disrupted and identify the positive disruption.

Disruption is often unwelcomed as it interrupts a process, be it a PowerPoint presentation or well-oiled industry practices. However, disruption can have positive effects. Positive disruption pulls us out of a comfortable and vested-interest viewpoint and catalyzes change that propels us forward. Dealing with change successfully requires being adaptable, flexible, open-minded, and anchored in your own truth. In this way – inviting new conversation, moving outside of the ego, and living fearlessly, we can identify when a disruption is unproductive or constructive.