Companies & Industries

To Master Disruptions, Hire Disruptors


Caterina Fake speaking at a conference in New York.

Photograph by Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Caterina Fake speaking at a conference in New York.

Sometimes it feels like George Carlin designed today’s world: “We don’t have time for rational solutions.”

Major disruptions are not just blowing up distribution channels and industries—this time it’s personal. Every day your To Do list is vaporized before you’ve had your first coffee.

How does one build teams in this kind of environment? That’s one of the questions I asked 100 disruptive leaders—people who refuse to accept the status quo.

Hire misfits, if they are passionate learners. “While I was a terrible student, I loved to learn. I would create my own projects, experiencing things on my own rather than conforming to someone else’s idea of the way you should be.”

That’s Caterina Fake, chairman of Etsy and a serial entrepreneur. She’s a co-founder of Flickr, the online photo-sharing application, and of Hunch, a personalized recommendations website, as well as the founder of Findery, which lets people tag photos or notes to a map for others to see.

Those who do great in this environment absolutely refuse to fit it. But they’re also passionate about asking and pursuing the questions no one else is asking. Look for the kid in the class who keeps bugging the teacher. That’s the person you want on your team.

Build teams of leveraged dabblers. We know we’re supposed to fail forward and do so through iterate, iterate, iterate. That’s not just a business philosophy. Your best teammates are building their career that way.

Like Nitin Rao: “What is common to all my projects is not believing in fears and being able to try out something new because it might bring happiness or it might have an impact, and not worry so much whether it will succeed.”

Rao is a co-founder of Sunglass, which has redesigned high-end CAD software, making it cheap and easily accessible in the cloud. He’s also the founder of Equal India Alliance, a nonprofit organization that helps the LGBT community in India, and he’s a TED Fellow.

A leveraged dabbler is someone like Rao, whose main career goal is to build and back high-impact ventures—no matter where that takes them. Dabblers like these are more likely to see constant disruptions as new opportunities to be leveraged and not be overly concerned with how those disruptions upset current plans.

Yes, they’ll push your buttons. That’s the point. The people who will help you succeed in this crazy, disruptive era are those who constantly figure out how to benefit from, or take advantage of, continuous disarray, disorder, and disruption.

That may occasionally make them a pain in your butt, but it will help you kick butt in the marketplace.

Jensen’s new book, Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic, is based on interviews with 100 disruptive heroes. He blogs at simplerwork.com.

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