Stop Playing by the Rules and Calling It Disruption

I spend a lot of time with people who want to change the world and with people who actually do. The difference between them isn't intelligence, money, connections, or even force of will -- it's perspective. The ability to see and affect the world with their own hand and not what they are handed. At any given moment we are trying to solve the world's problems, the same problems that have plagued us for centuries -- education, healthcare, and energy -- the list goes on. Yes, we have made progress but have created new problems in the process. We have knotted ourselves in a web that only Charlotte could have woven.

Four centuries before Christ, in Phrygia, there were a people without a leader. An oracle came to them and said that the first man to ride into Phrygia on a cart shall be their king. Soon after Gordias, a peasant from Macedonia, rode into town on an ox-cart and was proclaimed king. As a gesture of gratitude, Gordias' son Midas turned the cart to gold and it became a fixture in the Palace of Kings of Phrygia. The cart was held in place with knot tied so intricately that no man could untie it. Oracles said that since the Gordian Knot was so strong the man who could untie it shall reign over all of Asia. Many men came and went studying the nature of the knot. It wasn't until 333 BCE that Alexander the Great rode into town and unlike the men before him, he took his sword and cut the knot in two. Many proclaimed that he cheated and didn't untie the knot properly. But that didn't matter; Alexander proclaimed his rightful place as the King of Asia.

Take a look at most of the policies, corporations, non-profits and startups around today. How many of them are "solving" a current problem and creating a new one, working at the effect of what there is room for, and perpetuating expected "innovation" at the mercy of a changing market and people? The answer is, too many. The amount of real disruption happening is in deficit because we spend too much time wrapped up in the problems we have than in the outcomes we want. We have been trained to see the world this way, through an education system that is built on an antiquated philosophy, political tensions we put up with, and a flawed engagement model that leaves millions suffering each and every day.

Our job is to create the world we expect. Cast out the rules and the knots you're given in favor of the expectations and the sword you have. We each are equipped to cut through the chaos and clear the way for what we imagine, but we trained to fit within structures of predefined success and metrics. We do what everyone else is doing and in turn become what everyone else is becoming. Rules are important, we all need some sort of foundation to build on, but we don't need structured building. Real innovation happens where there are no rules, where you get to play and do what comes most natural to you. For most of us, this is a privilege granted only if we play by the rules -- when in reality it is where we should have begun all along. Look for what you don't see, and begin there.

Disruption is often misunderstood as changing behavior or changing the rules, when in reality it is about enabling behavior disabled by rules. To disrupt the status quo and create the world we aspire for, we must first take responsibility to do so, recognizing that we are not the majority but we are also not alone. I still remember my first company beginning in secret, when we decided to make college education more affordable through entrepreneurship. Our team began in secret because we were still students ourselves and didn't know if we would compromise our degree for what we believed in. I spent my fair share of time in policy meetings, on Capitol Hill, and negotiating with administration yet tuition costs would rise without fail every single year. By the time I graduated my tuition was nearly double what it was when I entered college. We weren't interested in satisfying voters, saving face, or the talking points of rising tuition costs -- we were interested in one thing: making quality education affordable. We were kicked off campuses, locked out of administrative offices, and called scam artists. They wanted us to play by their rules. We said no and we created what students and parents expected; a mechanism to make college education more affordable when they needed it most. I am proud to say today we have saved students more than $24 Million in the cost of education and we have only just begun.

The change makers are the ones who set out to leap forward and show us what we have been missing out on all along and give us a choice between reality and what we expect. They choose to play by no rules, wield their sword and cut through the Gordian Knot that is holding everyone else back.

You don't have to accept the problem you are given. Pay more attention to the nature of your sword than the nature of the knot.