THE BLOG
10/15/2013 09:42 am ET Updated Dec 15, 2013

Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive thinking. By definition it challenges the status quo and brings with it a range of negative connotations. Failure to 'toe the line' is bad behavior and something to prevent.

This was certainly my belief as a child, drilled in to me by well-meaning teachers who wanted, above all else, to have an orderly classroom. That would explain my report cards with their frequent references to my 'disruptive behavior'.

Out of respect for my teachers and my fellow classmates, time and again I tried to follow their advice, but time and again I found myself getting into trouble for what my teachers considered to be unsettling day-to-day activities. And it didn't stop when I left school.

Some of my early employers struggled with my exuberance and constant analysis of established systems and processes. Consistently I questioned why things were being done the way they were. I was a respectful employee, but I had questions and my curiosity was sometimes mistaken for disruptive thinking.

As in school, I wasn't stirring the pot just to elicit a reaction or to get attention. I was genuinely curious about alternatives and interested in behaviors and strategies that would drive performance and underpin a pushing of the envelope.

There are two critical life lessons to come from these experiences. The first is that staying true to who you are is the only way. I couldn't compromise who I was. It was in my nature to be curious, to answer "why?" instead of "yes."

The second relates to the primacy of disruptive thinking in business. Even if it's not in your nature, disruptive thinking should be part of your business plan.

I could have approached my role as chief executive of one of the world's largest accounting bodies with a view to sustaining the business by complying with established operations. There is an ingrained expectation that an accounting body would embrace compliance. Not only is that not who I am, it's not good for our business.

As in school, at university and in my early career, I have chosen the disruptive path. I came into the role with an objective to inspire and work with my team to take the organization to places it's never been. Whether it was customer service, digital innovations, launching a free-to-air television series, or developing a gaming app -- I wanted us to upset the established order, to surprise, to be a first mover with a reputation for innovation. An organization people remember for doing things differently.

Encouraging staff to challenge the status quo and nurturing a disruptive mindset is a key part of this. It has helped me take our business on some exciting new paths and it has provoked some great thinking and ideas from the team I work with while not alienating the organization's traditional values. When I say to my staff, "dare to be different", what I'm really saying is dare to be yourself. It's your uniqueness that'll get you ahead - and get our brand noticed.

It may appear counter-intuitive for a business, but strict adherence to established policies, procedures, goals, markets and audience can be a trap. Kodak used to be synonymous with photography, but sticking with its established photographic film business saw it miss the digital revolution (even though it invented the core elements of digital cameras). The company has only just emerged from nearly two years of bankruptcy proceedings.

You can't get noticed if no one knows who you are. To me, disruptive thinking in business is about making possible a different dialogue, with an expanded audience and a new market. It is equally important internally as it is externally, as the one will never happen without the other... and that's a challenge for leaders in business. There's a comfort in the familiarity of established internal policies and processes but these same bureaucratic arrangements can induce a complacency that leaves you open to being blindsided by the new or the emerging.

Disruptive thinking, aggressively applied, is the most effective way to tackle bureaucratic inertia. Curious and restless staff driving creative thinking underpinned by a nimble business plan will secure ongoing business relevance and longevity.