Working in the Age of Disruption

How to Stay Grounded in a Rapidly Changing Environment

I’m guessing everyone reading this article has heard some variation of the word disruption recently. It’s as buzzy a buzzword as you can find right now. Seemingly every business you read about claims to be “disrupting the paradigm” or see themselves as “disruptors changing the way we live.” Inc. Magazine even publishes a list of the 25 most disruptive companies every year. Despite the bombast and grandiosity of these claims, it’s true that we’re living in a business environment that’s changing more rapidly than ever before. You may be wondering how you can survive and thrive in a world where the way we do things today isn’t guaranteed to be the way we do things tomorrow. Well, I’m here to tell you that it may not be as difficult as it sounds.

What is disruption, really?

Like any business term that gains cache, many people are eager to call themselves disruptors when they are actually far from it. The definition of a “disruptor” from the Cambridge English Dictionary. They describe a disruptor as “a company that changes the traditional way an industry operates, especially in a new and effective way.”

Disruption, then, stands apart from traditional innovation. It’s not a new feature here or a sleeker design there. True disruption replaces part of an industry with something entirely new. One day we’re hailing a cab with our thumbs, the next we’re calling an Uber or Lyft with our phone. One weekend we’re renting out movies from Blockbuster, the next we’re scrolling through a digital media library on Netflix. That’s real disruption, and no profession is immune from it.

How can I handle disruption?

Laura Montgomery, writing for The Economist, details the difficulty that comes with working in a disruptive time. “Unfortunately,” she says, “there’s no trans-industry silver bullet for preparing for and managing disruption.” That being said, there are a few key traits you can develop in order to better cope with our ever-evolving work lives.

The first and most important is embracing a willingness to adapt to changes when they arrive. As media mogul Shari Redstone once said, “complacency is the kiss of death.” That’s always been true, but never more so than it is today. If you want to rest on your laurels and think the way you do things can never be improved upon, you risk falling behind the curve. If you’re not willing to keep up with contemporary trends, you can bet somebody else will. Is change scary? You’re darn right it is. Not changing, though, is a whole lot scarier.

In addition to being willing to change, you need to keep your eye on the horizon. Understanding potential shifts in the way you do your job makes the transition a whole lot easier. You don’t have to be one of the first to adopt a new practice or technology, but you should be aware of advances before they become widespread. Nothing makes dealing with disruption harder than feeling like you’re playing a game of catch-up.

Finally, you need a willingness to accept new ideas no matter where you’re at in your career. I like to think of this as maintaining a perpetual “day one” mentality. Think back to when you first started at your workplace. Odds are you were very accepting of training, coaching, and mentorship. When you start to be successful, that desire to learn can sometimes fall by the wayside. Don’t let it. We all have more to learn and viewing disruption as a learning opportunity will serve you well.


Should I become a disruptor?

The honest answer to that question is: It depends on who you are. Some folks may have game-changing ideas they want to put into practice. If you fall under that category, go for it. If not, don’t fret. There are more roles for people that want to help the disruption occur and implement the change. Decide where you strength is and make a contribution to the future of the work you do so you can have a say in it, grow your skills and continue to be excited about what is to come.

Amy VetterComment