article I wrote last week for NextBillion.net. NextBillion is a site that "brings together business leaders, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, policy makers, and academics who want to explore the connection between development and enterprise." While a few of the ideas are covered in the About section of this blog, I wanted to delve deeper into the concept of being a Disruptive Leader. Someone or something that is disruptive is usually associated with a negative. The subprime mortgage crisis has disrupted financial and housing markets. That's bad (and getting worse!). My son was being disruptive at dinner while someone else was talking. That's bad too. But I believe the idea of being deliberately disruptive can be a huge positive when used in the development of strategies, organizations, products, business models and markets. Specifically, disruption can be useful for those companies that are trying to serve low income markets and eradicate poverty, all while building a successful business venture. Back in early 2005, I read CK Pralahad's The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid and Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Solution just as I started my new job as General Manager of the Emerging Markets Platforms Group at Intel. Our group was responsible for developing and selling new PC and mobile products designed to meet the specific needs of those at the bottom of the pyramid. One of these products is the Classmate PC, which has become famous mostly because of the ongoing public battle between it and Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC XO laptop. The theories put forward in Prahalad's and Christensen's books, combined with my experience trying to create a viable business with customers that make only $1 to $2 a day, are the foundation of my belief that a disruptive approach is the way to go when building businesses focused on selling and improving the lives of the poor. When I talk about being disruptive, I'm talking about strategies and techniques that change the game, overturn the status quo, and ultimately make the biggest possible impact. In this post, I will touch on the following areas where I think disruptive strategies are required:
- Product strategy
- Business models
- Leadership and management
"If I am not upsetting the proverbial apple cart, then I am adding little value. By merely maintaining what has been done in the past, I will bring about little if any gain. Don't misunderstand. This is not about stirring the pot for the sake of stirring the pot. Disruptive leadership must be purposeful and backed by a vision."Another good one by Ted Santos talks about how good leaders create problems:
"What separates extraordinary leaders from managers? One way to distinguish the difference is to compare the mindset of leaders and managers. Managers are great at solving problems. Leaders, on the other hand, exude their greatness by creating problems."A disruptive leader stirs the pot, thinks out of the box, is willing to challenge the norm, thrives on change and uncertainty, and most importantly of all, can navigate the turbulent political waters that inevitably are created in reaction to the various disruptive strategies AND leaders. A disruptive leader creates a company culture that embraces all of these concepts. These leaders are few and far between. I loved a quote from a recent article in the Economist on the career of Subramanian Ramadorai:
Mr Ramadorai believes dealing with adversity only makes companies stronger. "If everything is peaceful, you don't push yourself," he says."Adversity" has negative connotations, just like the word "disruptive." But as Mr. Ramadorai says, adversity makes you stronger. I think being disruptive does too.