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Quit the “disrupting” and start “disturbing”

5 min read


Disrupting. Everyone’s claiming to do it and oh how it’s grabbed our attention lately. In fact, at the moment, it is one of the most used, trendiest and overly stated buzzwords of recent years. To disrupt is to drastically alter or damage something. Applied to business, it translates to change and innovation.

While the surge of creativity is fantastic and companies are out disrupting, the real question is who is actually disturbing?

You see, there is a difference.


Although both imply innovation, with varying degrees of radicalism, disrupting is more internally focused. Disruption tends to focus on how an organization can make a great external impact by what it’s doing. You could say that disruption is more assumed by those who are allegedly doing the disrupting. They are out to disrupt through their creations. Although disruption is a huge step toward improvement and breakthroughs, it lacks the provoking factor.


Disturbing is more externally focused, posing a question at something. To disturb is to challenge, to question, to alter. And, most importantly, to get others out of their comfort zone.

Think of taking buckets of every color of paint you can imagine and throwing them all at a white wall. Now, if you chopped up the wall into sections, you would have a variety of unique pieces of art. This is disturbing. The different colors of paint represent ideas and the individual sections we chopped up are innovations and new products. Rather than taking one new idea or product to market and planning on making an impact, disturbing sets a stage to produce endless creativity and modernization in a workplace.

Children are great disturbers, they constantly ask “why” and have high levels of curiosity. As we answer their questions and feed them information, we are often forced to ask ourselves the same questions. It’s a nice refresher to ourselves, questioning why we do the things we do. We cold learn a thing or two from them — they disturb without hesitation.

The transition. The shift.

Why would we want to disturb when disrupting has such a nice ring to it? Because great change not only comes from an exchange of ideas and opposing viewpoints from internal culture, but also from customers and consumers. This is where the transition from disruption to disturbing comes into play. The added element of external engagement will get us closer to what the market truly demands. Uncomfortable? Yes, undoubtedly, but necessary if growth and progress are your goals.

Organizations often assume they know best and hired the best minds to create new ideas. Internal assets are in place but they fall short in stirring the pot with the outside world. This lack of external influence could be partly due to the fear of making waves, losing customers, hurting their brand or offending someone. Of course, disturbing has its boundaries, and should never be aggressive or offensive, but we must remember that nothing new is ever created by doing the status quo.

Benefits of stirring the pot

A prime example of an area to disturb is in complacent organization’s false view of cultural diversity. A mix of ideals is often overlooked by the physical makeup of its people. True diversity seeks a set of thinking and processes that challenge the norm. There is no place for egos in an environment that disturbs and embraces real diversity. When organizations are truly diverse and disturbing internally, there is an added value proposition to customers.

Externally speaking, customers and clients need to be challenged by consultants. If you can go in and disturb a client’s mentality in order to achieve a better outcome, you have created meaningful, long-term value. Immediate products and services usually fix immediate problems.

There is an opportunity out there for all of us to push boundaries and question stagnant practices without being careless. We need to think of children and their thirst for the question “why?” The same logic applies to working with colleagues and customers. Somewhere, this got lost, and there’s obviously a gap as we mature and become part of the workforce.

Corporate culture needs to embrace more curiosity and respectful questioning, as that is where you’ll find the real groundwork for innovation and yes, disrupting.

Adam R. Lloyd serves as president and managing partner of Webber Kerr Associates. As an executive talent strategist and consultant, he supports the leadership challenges and objectives of multi-nationals, private equity held and family-owned companies. Lloyd’s experience in CEO and executive appointments spans multiple industry sectors in the Americas and EMEA markets. Prior to founding Webber Kerr, he began his career in financial services and co-founded a midsize human capital services company. He received his a BS, human resources, from Michigan State University. Contact Lloyd on Linkedin, and Webber Kerr on Linkedin and Twitter.

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