According to a recent article in Inc. Magazine, Malcolm Gladwell busts several myths about change management and leadership. Gladwell calls people who generate rapid, visionary change, “disruptors.” They are fearless, visionary, persistent and impatient. They do it no matter what. Then, when they succeed, the world calls them leaders.
Here’s Gladwell’s three characteristics of disruptors.
First, change isn’t guided, it’s pushed, by visionaries who don’t care what anyone thinks about their ideas. Telling the story of Malcolm McLean, who revolutionized shipping by designing new transportation practices for shipping containers, Gladwell (with Jill Krasny), says “McLean, like most underdogs, could not have cared less. He was “completely indifferent to what people said about him,” Gladwell said, which is “the first and foundational fact to understand these disrupters. They are what psychologists call disagreeable–they do not require the approval of their peers in order to do what they think is correct.”
Second, they reframe problems. Gladwell created a system of heavier equipment and rails to transport it, instead of falling into the old ways of thinking — equipment needs to be made lighter. Simple? Not when the whole field resists the change. Persistence changes limitations, but it comes from visionary reframing. “Successful disrupters are people who are capable of an active imagination,” said Gladwell. “They begin reimagining their world by reframing the problem in a way no one had framed it before.”
Third, they remove constraints instead of accepting them. They find ways of taking action, now. “That had nothing to do with his vision or insight. Not even his brains or resources, said Gladwell. “It was in his heart.”
All well and true, I think. But there’s something missing here — and that’s discernment for sustainability. There’s nothing wrong with heavier equipment — except it takes more fuel, heavier trucks, and fewer human workers to make the system work. There are consequences, maybe not horrible, but consequences.
Now consider the toxic “side effects” of something disruptively visionary like fracking, which seems to solve our energy problems for now, but creates terrible pollution quickly and efficiently. Do it now sometimes creates changes that make us suffer in the long run, disrupting a balance that goes beyond practicalities. We might not have the devastating climate change conditions we have now if more of our disruptors cared enough about the consequences.
So my question is, how do we add a considered, whole picture vision to this reframed problem solving? It seems that would make the disruptors healthier leaders by making their vision more sustainable.