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Personal Disruption: Reinventing the Expected

by Jack Hojnar

In 1993, the band U2 was on a roll. Considered one of the hottest rock bands of a new generation they were a seemingly unstoppable musical force.

While not yet challenging the Beatles for notoriety, musical inventiveness or quirky band member behaviors (though Bono crept close to this distinction), U2 was about to take some Beatle-esque chances: The group from Ireland released its riskiest album, Zooropa.

Nearly every music critic panned the album. Even the most die-hard fans scratched their collective heads, confounded. Yet, the band admitted a need for change. Their story was running the risk of growing stale. The musicians were getting bored. Their next album, Pop, while a slightly more appealing was hinting at a possible end to the run.

Prior to Zooropa their music was listing toward the common and the expected. And here they were becoming their own worst enemy, accelerating the reduction. Zooropa was an expression engulfed in change and fueled by a selfish need for deep experimentation.

This disruption in style, personality and delivery led them to reinvent themselves by eventually returning to the very thing they did best. The result: the multi-award winning album, All that You Can’t Leave Behind.

Read that again: they went weird only to write songs similar to their previous hits but with a renewed energy obtained from leavin thei comfort zone; it was perceived as an incredible breakthrough.

It’s the best advice for every employee.

The Predictable You

Taking risks at organizations is, well, risky. Being weird or leaving your comfort zone can certainly be scary. Fitting in is usually the norm. Blending in is ultimately, rewarded. Of COURSE there are corporations that reward departures from norms. Weird is gaining in popularity, no doubt.

This isn’t recommending just being weird for the sake of being different but to look at yourself and consider the following 5 Questions:

  1. Are you getting predictable? Do co-workers, clients, and superiors know your best and worst habits? Are you always at work earlier than others? Do you always show up late to conference calls?

  2. Are your ideas always rooted in the same solution type? Technology people float toward technology for answers. Process people solve problems with processes.

  3. Are you bored? Do you recognize that work isn’t stimulating even perhaps in the face of new clients, different projects or re-location?

  4. Is your message growing stale? Can employees finish your “motivational” speeches before you finish? Do they grow tired of your continued punitive decisions?

  5. Do you make time to surprise and delight your customers? Sometimes, customers want something new to see, touch, hear or experience. They expect the traditional but secretly keep their eyes and ears open to differences offered by your competitors. They don’t just eat the same hamburger every day!

Disrupt Your Reality

To be sure, U2 didn’t swing so wildly from their origins that they morphed into an alt-country or blues band. The Zooropa song “Stay” hints of passages, chords and stories woven from previous albums, the possibility that the band hadn’t strayed too far from home. It’s just that the rest of the Zooropa songs made most fans express loudly, “WTF?”

Similarly, this isn’t a suggestion to start missing meetings just to be counterculture. Or to tell customers to “find another partner” just because it’s been a hidden desire.

You could always quit your job, stay the same person in front of new people. But that’s not really similar to leaving the band to embark on a solo career (unless you decide to start you own business, of course).

Instead, disrupt your own reality in a positive manner. Change your clothes. Work over the weekend. Ask to take off every Wednesday to volunteer. Give presentations. Put others in charge.Here's 6 ideas to consider:

  1. If you are someone that never speaks up in meetings, take the risk and speak up (it’s only a risk because you think it that way, just sayin’).

  2. If you are someone that always talks in meeting, pipe down and simply listen.

  3. Ask others about you – peers, bosses, employees, customers – and learn what is most predictable about you, good and bad,

  4. Take a stand on a topic, perhaps a controversial topic and a controversial point of view.

  5. Try to solve a problem without defaulting to your familiar bag of tricks.

  6. Mix it up. Stray a bit. Wander. Wonder. Push your own person limits. Present a different you.

Know this one fact: personal disruption will come at a cost. For U2, Zooropa pushed away fans  (who eventually returned stronger). For you, you may lose some friends. You may alienate customers. You could lose your job.

But when you return to your strengths - to those skills and talents and qualities that make peers, superiors, clients and employees embrace you - your crazy phase will produce breakthrough moments for everyone, especially you.

The best advice: Stay disruptive and predictably unpredictable.