Disruptive, Disruptiveness, Disruptively

Images This is the definition of disruptive technology in Wikipedia:

A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology there. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in the new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.

Whitney Johnson wrote a post this week in the Harvard Business Review called Disrupt Yourself.  It is a worthy read.  Whitney writes that by making a career change she basically disrupted herself.  I have mentioned before that I am on a listserv that is comprised of a group of some incredible women. One could describe this group as a significant (on many levels) collection of women trying to disruptive the technology industry.  Whitneys blog post was sent to the group and as always people chimed in on the post with a bravo and some interesting comments.

Here is what I wrote:

women define disruptive.  we continue to change our goals, our jobs, our direction as we charge down the path of life.  men's careers ( not as a rule ) look like a growth chart starting at the bottom and slowly moving upward over the course of their careers.  women's charts tend to look a little more erratic as they go up and down depending on where they are in their life mostly because of children and also because as a group we have a bigger bandwidth of interests that might play out over time. 

my guess is that everyone on this list is a bit disruptive in their own personal way.  personally, i have reinvented myself more times than i can count on one hand. 

great piece.

If you read the first sentence in the Wikipedia definition, it can easily be applied to any career move.  Moving forward creates new experiences and I have to believe that the experiences of the past that one carries and applies to the next experience makes each of us better at what we do.  It is like aging.  There is something to be said for years of experience no matter which new direction you take yourself. 

I have had a diverse career starting out as at Macys as I raced as fast as I could up the ladder to buyer and then jumping ship to work in the garment center.  Then figuring out how to move up that ladder landing a job that allowed me to grow a company and learn every facet of the business.  Then it was time for the kids and I literally jumped ship.  Through a random group of freelance gigs helping friends I ended up in the technology business on the media side helping grow a magazine, ezine and conference business.  I continued to move forward into the non-profit world and taking my past experiences of growing businesses and putting that to work sitting on a few start-up boards.  I took my sales knowledge and applied it to the kids school helping change the way we fundraise as well as sitting on the board there too.  Started blogging to write about what was running through my head and eventually started to invest in start-ups myself.  Now I am working with an amazing women at NYU creating a conference for women entrepreneurs. 

Do all these career moves make sense?  Doubtfully but kids came into the picture, life changed, my husbands business changed, we moved, we lived and I just continued to not only reinvent myself each time but disrupt my career.  I had golden handcuffs when I worked in the garment industry and I walked away from a serious amount of cash but in the end it was what I had to do. 

Many women who have got off the train for the past how many years to raise their families, that experience is resume worthy.  That experience makes these women better at the next challenge.  We are entering a world of disruption on every level and embracing ourselves as to be disrupted too is the key to innovation and success in our own lives.  It is about your skill set and that can easily be moved from industry to industry and job to job. 

Here is what I say….disrupt, disrupt, disrupt. 


Comments (Archived):

  1. Andy Ellis

    Joanne, I assume that most of your posts are written with a female audience in mind. But as a guy (& husband) I find your perspective quite illuminating.  I can really say that it adds a dimension to the way I understand some of the career challenges my wife faces. Thank you.***I really like the visualization of the line graph with the man’s career steadily creeping upward as compared with the volatile, erratic line associated with women’s tracks.

    1. Gotham Gal

      my pleasure.

  2. David Noël

    Wow awesome, seeing the Disrupt’s (the band) logo here makes me happy. Massive cash-in on street-cred right there 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      but, of course!!

  3. leigh

    Funny you use the word disrupt.  At my last consulting gig (before I started my own firm) the CEO of the company pulled me aside after an internal planning session and gave me what he called “the gift of feedback”…he thought I should take a gentler approach to easing his team into the changes he specifically hired me to resolve.  I laughed (politely of course) and said – I told you before we started, that if you hired me, it would be disruptive.  People would be uncomfortable.  Some would support.  Some would try to undermine.  Without the disruption, there is no  change or innovation and he might as well save his money and tell me to go home.He didn’t and it all worked out.  But – i think that is the same for business as it is for life.  Disruption is a meaningful process that if handled carefully, leads to a better future.    

    1. Gotham Gal

      great story. thanks for sharing.consultants are meant to disrupt or companies shouldn’t bring them in to change the course.

  4. Ann

    Talking about disruption- are you evacuating or how is New York or Long Island looking from your perspective?

    1. Gotham Gal

      we came back from long island to nyc because our daughter is here getting ready for college. we were coming back sunday as it was so it made more sense to come back late friday night. we are one block away from the evacuation zone. fingers crossed.

  5. Carol

    I was at a Wharton Conference a few years ago and one of the topics covered was the various career stages we all move through. I learned a new term “creative reinvention” which defines the stage of career life I am currently in. I decided to put a pen to paper to chronicle my own career journey which I titled “Detours along the way…” In reflecting on my own career path I realized that some of those “detours” or disruptions led to new opportunities that I never would have discovered had I kept on a linear path. I am now an active angel investor, proud mom of two great young adults and a struggling new golfer! 

  6. Viktor Ovurmind

    I think the chief vehicle of disruption is getting off the gonad-led career path.  John Lennon wrote a beautiful song called “Watching the Wheels” where he viewed getting off the merry-go-round as vital to his future life interests.  Women have actually done that, so I say celebrate getting off it, rather than treat our lives chained to a mechanical pathway.Unfortunately in the very moments of that supreme realization, a gonad-led killer ended Lennon’s opportunity to live the actual life he was describing – and the irony of his death is that he was about to embark on the opposite, signing a copy of his album “Double Fantasy” just as he was getting back on his career path.  Wheneever disruption equals murder, count me out.Disrupt, disrupt, disrupt IMHO is the echoes of our 1960’s culture, one that I was indeed born into but one which spoke of fighting the system only to see most of its great advocates become the system.  The Who sang about that when they said “We won’t be fooled again”. Guess what, we are constantly being “fooled again” – its the system not the people here, reforming on the career path is a different thing to revolution on the life path (our own).Disruption in the spirit Clayton Christensen wrote about it, is an interesting reflection on how business gets undone when they don’t get off the career and growth minded pathway.  Someone comes along and offers something less than imaginable and opens up an entirely new can of worms, which IMHO simply become new career pathways.The way I see it, the major life thing that needs disrupting is the career path itself.  The whole idea of it wreaks high heaven of industrial aged pollution, pollution in its philosophical constructs, pollution in its spiritual silos, pollution in its linear actions. The way out isn’t the way in.  What twisted perversion is there greater than splitting one’s life into three pieces – shaping new born creatures into career path adults and careered adults into retired product.Disruption in this way of thinking has but one rally cry which is “End this Nonsense”.   If to disrupt is disruption, is finding tranquility equivalent to tranquilized? I am sure it was in the 60’s when disruption was really a halycon thing, but to smoke pot and make acid out of the human brain, but this is the 21st Century – a century that still is no where near ending the nonsense of the career path, a century no where closer to the creation of the cradle-to-grave life paths.  We need a new 360 life, not the 60’s. The end of nonsense is when every brain counts, every heart beats its own uniqueness and every body can mind its own business and in the words of Buddy Holly find “true love ways”.I say disrupt, tranquilize, disrupt – I mean a man’s got to do more than just know his limitations, he has to wake up to the reality that a life path is for human brains, and that a career path is for inhuman gonads. Not that I want to disrupt anyone’s thinking when I think that – I have a full time job disrupting my own life without sharing out the breakdowns and breakthroughs.[v.o.M.]”viktor ovurmind” @thoughtspaces:twitter

    1. Gotham Gal

      Gonad-led. I like that

      1. Viktor Ovurmind

        In the selfless spirit of “disrupt, disrupt, disrupt”, you must not like “that” :-)There is only one form of life balance that makes sense to me, which is to find equilibrium between the size and quality of one’s heart and the size and quality of one’s mind, more mind than heart and we become cold, more heart than mind and we become too hot – disruption causes heat, but intelligence must be our cooler.I know that you want engage in activity that brings confidence to next-generation women, but there is only one next-generation, which is the 21st Century voice.  It is a voice that has to permeate all bodies rather than focus on bodily differences.A part of my online journey is to discover the 21st Century voice within, and so the expression “gonad-led” carries with it a battle against a prior-century voice – there is nothing wrong with our voice containing behaviours of the past, but there is something wrong with not having a compassionate sense for behaviours of the future.The chief disruption is self-development, it is challenging our own thoughts and ways – but we end up challenging each other to change and then unwittingly end up just trying to change the other. What is the 21st Century voice and how should it speak to our own given selves when we see a mindset that is gonad-led?  I say in that moment it shapes as a compassionate voice, one that realizes that there is an imbalance in the size and quality of one’s mind, to the size and quality of one’s heart. The act of making things up as we go along is innovative until a prejudiced voice arises informed by a voice guided by prior culture and then we realize that disruption can turn into a bulldozer when our life really needed a sowing needle – disruption should not be large wholesale tears in our collective psyche, but patching up that which tears our own humanity.The act of tearing up is disruption so long as we hold in our mind and heart its two meanings, first the act of pulling apart, ripping or breaking apart and secondly the human act of crying.  So long as our mind and heart are in equilibrium with that, then we don’t have to look down at “gonad-led” thinkers, but hope they will look up.[v.o.M.]viktor ovurmind @thoughtspaces:twitter   

  7. Rohan

    Thanks Joanne. That was a very nice one and I found myself forwarding it immediately to an (older and wiser) friend who I know would relate..I am reminded of 2 things – a quote from Charles Darwin that says ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’ – Charles DarwinAnd the fact that the Bhagavad Gita’s single overarching lesson is that ‘Change is the rule of nature.’I know we’re talking ‘disruption.’ At the end of the day, I see it as our response to change.PS: I hope you guys make it safe and sound past the Irene hurdle. 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks. Love the Darwin quote. So true.

  8. brazil6

    Great article!  I too am a guilty party in the world of disruption.  My career has been a constant change and sometimes I was at the top of the ladder and later I was starting at the bottom.  Some reasons being because of family commitments and the other just because I was ready for another challenge.  I was always concerned that in someways I was being a little unstable but at the back of my mind I knew that my previous experiences could only but benefit me.  Change or disruption is the only constant and I think if you don’t go with the flow you end up being very unhappy!!  Adaptability is the key to survival in this day and age.I think women in general are the change agents and we normally build up the courage to make the change.  I call these ladies change agents :)So here’s to disruption, something I will be doing in the next 4 months when I move my family back to France after a 4year stay in New Zealand. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      wow. back to france from new zealand, that’s bold.i like that, ladies change agents. women are absolutely change agents….they kind of have to be.

  9. Linda Eyre

    Love these ideas!  Since I spent most of my early career having children, I’ve realized that each of our nine children was a total “disruption”. Just never thought to call it that!  But oh the things I learned and the “places I went” because of those disruptions. I wouldn’t change that for anything!I actually love disrupting our children’s lives as well. We moved often and traveled much. We had adventures amidst tears of “I wanna go home”, and loved what our children learned from being disrupted!  Two of my favorite quotes on this: “If life is just a bowl of cherries, hire a wolf to knock at your door” and “Never let your children’s schooling get in the way of their education.”Thanks for the heads-up on this true principle!