The world is changing at an alarming speed. Just think circa the year 2000, at the turn of the millennium. The increasing rate of change in business has been very clear for all to see, particularly in the technology sector. Consider fax machines. While the technology existed for 150 years, they didn’t reach critical mass until 1987. In more recent times, it took Facebook six years to reach 500 million users and barely two to double it to a billion. Exponential change is all around us.

Whether we like it or not, this is the new global reality by which we all live and work. During the next decade, your ability to quickly introduce new products, instantly change business processes, create new business models, and adapt your supply chain will be greatly prized. Entire businesses learn this the harsh way as entire business models, distribution channels, profit sources can be changed almost entirely… and without warning.

And all for the better.

Legend has it that in 1994, Bill Gates’ assistant, Steve Sonofsky, was visiting his alma mater, Cornell University. While there, he noted that Cornell was “taking full advantage of the fledgling Internet—email, course listings, international faculty collaborations, etc.—and fired off an email to his boss.”[1] As a result, Gates became convinced that he needed to shift Microsoft’s FOCUS TOWARD THE INTERNET—and FAST. He sent out a long memo[2] that stated that the Internet was taking off and that Microsoft would be a part of it.

Moreover, he wove this fundamental change into his story about the company. In particular, he noted that the Internet was a natural extension of the desktop and part of the personal computer domain. In other words, he changed the mental model of the company: It would from now on be not only about what ran on the PC, but also the capabilities of the Internet and the tools (the Internet Explorer browser, for example) needed to fully exploit them. He was not going to let a new, fierce competitor take advantage of this technological and social trend—the Internet—and use it to beat his company.

At the time, Gates demonstrated vision, tenacity, and, ultimately, the ability to organize and execute—qualities that are even more important today. The world is more complex now than it was a decade ago. Things are changing faster because science is expanding and, most important, because feedback loops in technology, knowledge, and networks amplify learning.

But what does this mean for you, and me?

Understanding disruption is hard. Disrupting is even harder.

And even as businesses can change or disrupt (for the better), so can you.

FYI: I believe that disruption can also work on a personal level (hence this article), not just for entrepreneurs who launch disruptive companies but for people who work within and move between organizations. Zigzagging career paths may be common now, but the people who zigzag best don’t do it randomly.

All disruption starts with INTROSPECTION.

Self-disruption is akin to undergoing major surgery, but you are the one holding the scalpel. Most people avoid this painful process because they are not willing to risk what they have built for the opportunity to have something better.

Ask yourself:

Am I really living life, or just paying bills until I die?

Renaissance Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli said that entrepreneurs are “simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”

To thrive in this era of endless innovation and achieve resilience and security in an oftentimes unstable, disruptive business landscape:

  1. We all need a better understanding of our own internal value chains. How we view ourselves and how we interpret our personal strengths is at the core of all external success. We must understand how to analyze our internal value chains to pinpoint our unique talents and capabilities and then analyze the value chains of our industries to find opportunities for disruption.
  2. We must learn how to disrupt our own belief systems to be able to reposition ourselves to take advantage of new opportunities and achieve success. Richard Branson founded Virgin as a record store only to discover that the real value was in creating, not just selling, records. He is one of most successful serial disruptor in history, he has created billion-dollar companies in EIGHT DIFFERENT INDUSTRIES!

  3. We must answer three basic questions: two very basic questions: How did others change the world? and How can I do it? The third question is entirely up to you: Will you do it?

It is safe to now assume, dear readers, that we are all in agreement that today’s work environment is radically different than it was in the twentieth century. For many of us, who live and work in developing economies, we have entered this reality in a somewhat abrupt fashion. Experimentation is cheap and the cost of failure – if done well – is much lower than it used to be. And disruptive technology has labelled the field for any worker, from Lagos to Los Angeles. These factors pose a great deal of opportunities and come with its fair share of threats for those who like to maintain the status quo.

This gives rise to a new kind of workers who are “tinkerers–” WHO NEVER LEAVE THINGS THE WAY THEY ARE. Actually, this is how work evolves (if not all of work has developed through the ages, from the Cognitive Revolution through the Industrial Revolution), by workers who tinkered and tweaked the status quo.

The cheetahs of the twenty-first century differ from the knowledge workers of the twentieth century. Rather than building deep expertise in a narrow set of skills:

  1. They are not confined to specific tasks.
  2. They are not limited in their access to information and computing power.
  3. They are not risk-averse.
  4. They are not defined by role definitions and organisational structures.
  5. THEY RELENTLESSLY PURSUE THEIR OWN IDEAS.
  6. They get bored easily and shift jobs a lot.
  7. They are multidimensional, usually combining technical depth with business savvy and creative flair.

The world has come a long way from the industrial revolution, where the main objectives were about:

  1. Lowering risks
  2. Avoiding mistakes

Excellence activators will not thrive in this environment. In fact, their very rebellious nature will break the porcelain jars of corporatism.

Organisations of the future (Google, Apple, etc.) will have to deliver great and exceptional products and to accomplish that, they have to attract excellence activators at every level by creating environments where they can succeed and thrive at scale.

They possess business savvytechnical knowledgecreative energy and a hands-on approach to GETTING THINGS DONE. These are fundamentals of excellence of activators.

Excellence activators can be found in every city, in every school, in every class and demographic, and in most businesses, non-profits, and government organisations. They are the ambitions ones of all ages who are eager (and able) to use the tools of technology to do a lot more.

They work hard and are willing to question the status quo and attack things differently.

Let this quote from serial entrepreneur and intrepreneur, Jay Samit simmer down:

History doesn’t remember those who maintained the status quo. The glory comes from being a disruptor. Every man and woman would like to leave their mark—some evidence of their existence—on this world. This is the self-disruptor’s manifesto: to transform yourself, your business, and the world.

[1] http://www.cornell.edu/about/wired/

[2] This memo can be found at http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/07/internet-tidal-wave.html