5 Ways to Harness the Power of Disruptive Thinking

UPDATED: January 22, 2016
PUBLISHED: January 21, 2016

It’s a brand new year. Cheers to fresh starts, renewed inspiration and the sway of unspoiled goals.

But know this—embracing the novelty of a new year and the infinite possibilities that it brings requires an equally pioneering mindset. The willingness to explore uncharted territories requires a bit of old-fashion moxie and some outside-the-box thinking. It’s for these reasons words like courage, audacity and disruption, immediately come to mind.

But it’s the last of those three that really sticks out.

Here’s why: People who challenge themselves by setting and achieving goals don’t dwell inside comfort zones. That they can avoid the pain of rejection and failure is of little value. They think and act differently and find comfort in being uncomfortable—all of which helps them to jettison the status quo in uniquely satisfying ways.

If you want to achieve your most coveted goals this year, you’re going to have to shake things up by changing the way you think: Enter disruptive thought.

But what makes thinking disruptive?  In an article on Forbes.com, Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink, advises that it’s characterized by a line of questioning that awakens the mind, rather than puts it to sleep. These questions “usually begin with ‘how,’ ‘which,’ ‘why’ or ‘if’ and are specific without limiting imagination,” she says. “They focus on generating solutions rather than begging long-winded explanations and place blame, as often-asked ‘close-ended’ questions always do.” For example, traditional, linear thought would easily lead to this question: “Who has an idea for improving our product/service?” 

Disruptive thinking, however, would go something like this: “If we hosted a forum called ‘How Our Products & Services Suck,’ what topics would be on the main stage?” An equally effective version is “Which two things could our competitors do to render our product/services irrelevant?”

Make sense? It’s the powerfully divergent shift in perspective that makes this process so effective.

If you want to overcome barriers to reaching your goals this year, saddle up and learn to harness the power of disruptive thinking.

Here’s how:

1. Challenge the status quo.

Being a team player is commendable and exercising diplomacy—admirable, but simply going along to get along is an ineffective strategy that often compromises values, relationships and in many cases, the bottom line. Don’t be afraid to question institutional memory, so-called best practices or decisions that appear problematic. Sure, it takes courage, open-mindedness and a desire to achieve the best result, but the rewards can be pretty significant. By choosing to “color outside the lines” so-to-speak, you can transform the proverbial landscape. If in doubt, ask: “What if bucking the system meant resolve, not just for me, but for others whose voices may be muted?”

2. Get uncomfortable.

If you’re feeling content with the ways things are, chances are you won’t be motivated to change them. But why be average when you can be extraordinary? You are your only real competition, so choose to step outside of your comfort zone and conquer any weaknesses. Get into the habit of raising your standards and expectations by challenging yourself to do more and better.

3. Forget what other people think.

Striving to secure praise and avoid blame is a recipe for disaster. Forget about it! You are your own best barometer. What matters most is what you think. So practice self-reliance; it’s critical. Doubt is simply a distraction. Don’t allow it to permeate your thoughts or influence your judgment. Muzzle the mental noise by leveraging positive thoughts and experiences from your arsenal.

4. Welcome failure.

Imagine going through life and never making any mistakes. What would be the point, really? There is tremendous value in embracing missteps and applying lessons learned. Experience is your best teacher. Plus, the opportunity to develop greater intellect, better judgment and improved analytical skills is unmatched. And as someone who’s actually experienced adversity and persevered, you naturally become a more credible adviser.

5. Be bold—with wild abandon.

What’s the worst thing that can happen when you stick out your neck? Someone says no or the situation doesn’t work out as planned. The best thing that could happen, however, is that you become wildly successful. So why not give yourself an opportunity to win? Take more chances. But don’t calculate a doomsday scenario in advance. The odds are in your favor. Remember: When you play it overly safe, you miss incredible opportunities that were ripe for the picking. Open your eyes to the universe of possibilities.

If you’re willing to embrace your inner disruptor, you can be more effective than you’ve ever been and take achievement to the next level this year and beyond.

Are you afraid of risk? Check out 5 ways to be bolder.

A leading authority on leadership development and organizational performance management, Karima Mariama-Arthur brings more than 25 years of comprehensive, blue chip experience in law, business and academia to every client engagement. A shrewd advisor to distinguished organizations from DC to Dubai, her expert insights help clients to successfully navigate today's ever-changing and competitive global business environment. Karima is the author of the internationally acclaimed and 2019 NAACP Image Award nominated leadership guidebook, Poised For Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan), which launched at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As an extension of her work, she speaks regularly both nationally and internationally in her areas of expertise and serves in an advisory capacity on select corporate boards.