Disruption or Disharmony? (Part 1)

J.E. Rash 

Disruption:  we are experiencing a lot of it these days. In unexpected election outcomes, in radical changes in foreign policy, climate change, societal change in the way we approach issues like gender, race, and religion…. Disruption is a change in the system, a radical upset that allows us to pause and reflect on our values, expectations, and ways of doing things.   While often eschewed by “establishment” the concept of disruption is being embraced by many in the entrepreneurship world as tool for positive change, increased productivity, and innovation.

When we talk about disruption, as Dr. Ira Kaufman does in his recent blog on digital disruption it is important that we ask:  are we creating a problem where no problem exists?  Or, perhaps we are responding to a problem that exists but with tools that disrupt individual core beliefs/culture/security? Or responding to serious problems but with a potentially more negative long term effect?

The comments that follow are not intended to be a critique or criticism of the concept or intention of disruption, but rather an examination of the intent of a concept versus the linguistics and the effect of  language on the potential outcome.

Just as the goal of disruption is to cause us to pause and reflect, reconsider, and reconfigure, I believe we must turn the same critical eye to the concept of disruption.

At the expense of disrupting the populist flow of ‘disruption’ and innovation I will try to carefully express concerns and present an alternative way of thinking in a series of blog posts.

The intentional or unintentional inner response to the concept, word and framework of ‘disruption’ may both understate the effect of intentional disruption in a corporation, business or social organization and overstate its long term influence on personal values, if not ignoring this aspect totally. 

As we know, disruption is a force driven by changes in technology, generations’ expectations, surfacing of values like transparency, etc.  Many leaders see disruption as a threat (negative) instead of an opportunity.

When addressing digital transformation and disruptive forces with methodologies that connote negativity (destruction, blowing up) one is working against the positive intention of sustainable change. That is the major thesis of this blog post and root of my long-term concern.

The popularity of negative concepts somehow juxtaposed for the ‘good’ can be a paradox that in its acceptance has opened a Pandora’s box in our society.  Think of the dark hero in so many movies and shows whose violence and negativity is channeled for the “good” and yet does not really reflect the values of the good. Think of recent political rhetoric and the angst and aggressiveness it has engendered.  Living in the realm of values is quite radically different then living in the realm of bigotry and prejudice and fear.  The outcomes speak for themselves.

While some may see them as restrictive (and in some cases they indeed are) social norms are also often a means to insulate us from extreme points of view and hopefully give rise to moderation, tolerance, social etiquette, and personal security. Where they are abridged or missing, we find extreme points of view, language and negative actions that work against the balance and harmony that characterizes a healthy environment for problem solving, creativity, and harmony as well as peace, tolerance and humane-ness. 

From a corporate perspective, encouraging deconstructive thinking and ‘out of the box’ possibilities may be a noble and positive goal, but one which may ultimately give rise to questioning much more than one’s business model, market advantage, or even corporate culture. 

Will intentional disruption ultimately lead to disharmony even though its goal is the opposite ?  More next time.

J.E. Rash is President and Founder of Legacy International (www.legacyintl.org). Mr. Rash’s career includes studies in law, cross-cultural communication, and comparative religion; work in advertising and media; and the design of training programs and curricula for educators, parents, and youths. He has traveled extensively throughout the US and to Greece, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, Syria, and Turkey to lecture on education, conflict prevention and resolution, dialogue, democracy and civic education, and inter-religious understanding.  His most recent book, Islam and Democracy, has been distributed in English, Russian, and Kazakh. He has also recently launched Legacy International Ventures (LIV). Drawing on four decades of regional experience, Legacy International Ventures is building a holistic business model that integrates values-based entrepreneurship with shared value for all stakeholders. Through people-based tools, a ventures incubator and digital technologies, we accelerate the efforts of social venturers to impact the most challenging local and global problems.