Many people do not believe they can disrupt their career, let alone an entire industry, because they are not Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Despite what traditional and social media would have you believe, business model reinvention and industry disruption are not the exclusive domains of Bezos, Musk or even Silicon Valley.
While I marvel at the achievements of super-visionaries Bezos and Musk, they are not superhuman. Despite their mutual obsession with space missions (Bezos’ Blue Origin and Musk’s SpaceX), they are not supreme alien beings from another planet trying to get back home.
You don’t need super-futuristic vision to be a disruptor, just willingness and persistence to keep looking for ways to make things better. It doesn’t matter whether you begin searching for business innovation or career enhancement by disruption. Start where you are now.
Bezos and Musk wouldn’t want you to wait for them to disrupt an industry, improve the world or conquer the universe. While not everyone can disrupt on their scale, anyone with courage, ingenuity and a tireless work ethic can innovate and affect positive change.
There are generally four kinds of disruptors:
Discover the kind of disruptor you can be and play into those strengths. Also, know that you may have elements of more than one type, and that you may need to adapt your disruptive approach over time. What gets you to the pinnacle of your career or industry may not be what keeps you there.
Bezos and Musk are visionaries who built empires. You’re probably tired of hearing about that type, so let’s talk about the others.
Pioneers are the tinkering disruptors. The garage inventors fueled by equal parts caffeine and curiosity. They are all about the process of invention, and care about their craft as much as their business. Consider Apple: Jobs was the visionary, but Woz was the pioneer.
Never forget that the frontier is a dangerous place — it can be dizzying to circle the wagons for too long. You have to recognize when it is time to break formation and attack or run in another direction.
Rebels are the most vocal disruptors. Agitators in the workplace who offer viable solutions to their often scathing critiques of current business performance, practices and processes.
The viable solutions rebels offer is what makes them disruptive. If they are frequent critics lacking viable solutions to offer, they are not rebel disruptors but rather chronic complainers who damage precious morale.
Pirate disruptors do not have the grandiose visions of empire builders like Bezos and Musk, but never underestimate them. Their ingenuity and persistence in the face of overwhelming odds can be profound.
Speaking from personal experience, law-abiding pirates are less celebrated than rogues, but they have fun. A lot more fun than dodging arrows like pioneers, debating like rebels and managing an empire like visionaries. The real fun is in the conquering.
Pirates get to choose their battles.
I was one of EMC Corporation’s early employees in the 1980s when big businesses ran on mainframe and midrange computers. Our goal was never to reinvent the entire computer industry – we left that to pioneer Steve Wozniak, rebel Steve Jobs and conqueror Bill Gates.
EMC disrupted a segment of the industry and invented the third-party computer storage market. We were pirates who took computer storage hostage and captured an island where we established our pirate kingdom.
And their treasure.
International Business Machines (IBM), Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Prime Computer and Wang were the empires of the computing world at the time. They ruled with mainframe and midrange computers as their flagships, but their storage inside was the treasure we wanted for our own.
Back then, megabytes of memory cards sold for tens of thousands of dollars while costing well under a hundred to make. EMC attacked by offering better performance at a lower price and the computing empires were not nimble enough to counter our pirate raids.
The empires had long taken their computer storage customers for granted, so we did what pirates love to do. We partied with those neglected IT managers gaining allies and winning loyal customers.
EMC grew a small island kingdom into a multibillion-dollar empire recently acquired by Dell. You do not have to be a visionary empire builder like Bezos and Musk, or even a pioneer or rebel. Pirates make history too.