“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
As children, we are often taught and then reminded that disruption is a bad thing. It lands you in the principal’s office or in afterschool suspension, which I knew a lot about growing up. The mere act of disrupting a class, lesson, or activity is frowned upon. You don’t get rewarded for this perceived negative type of behavior, and you certainly aren’t going to find any substantial advantages as a kid to being disruptive.
As parents, we generally strive to raise children who fit in, collaborate, get along well with other children, and are comfortable with the world around them. Fitting in becomes the mantra for our youth, a steadfast pillar we inject into their very existence. Conventional society so often casts asides the dreamers, those that are brave, creative, and disregard boundaries. Because we are trained to stay inside the box, it then becomes virtually unacceptable to think outside of it. But that is where creativity goes to die and where productivity is stifled. That, my friend, is where we fail our children. And that is where I failed, through no fault of my own, as I struggled to find a positive and productive place for myself growing up.
Then these children, many just like me, grow up trying to fit in. We shy away from disruption and expressing what might be termed our “true selves,” all because we did not receive positive reinforcement when we expressed ourselves growing up. We were told at a young age that thinking differently was a bad thing. Then the fire in the child’s spirit is extinguished, the mind confined. Get the picture? The black and white, cookie-cutter image remains, free of any real color or character. In truth, we are ultimately doing our children and our society a grave misjustice by crafting a negative connotation around disruption.
Because not all disruption is negative. In fact, as our children mature into young adults, and as they choose a career and join the professional world, well-positioned disruption can become a game-changer. Those few adults who retain their childhood ability to wonder and to disrupt can develop an amazing competitive advantage. They can mature to be head and toes above the rest. It is their tremendous grit that can, with training and mentorship, position them to become remarkable leaders and creative thinkers. They might have stopped acting out in class, but they never abandoned their desire to be different or their focus on not always conforming to the norm.
In the business world, it is the disrupters that can become the pacemakers for the race—or, better said, the marathon—of life. They often lead the pack, living at the forefront of their respective industries. In many ways, this notion of productive disruption becomes THE competitive advantage. And it is not something that is frequently nurtured. In fact, it is conventional nurture that can kill it early in life. Our most celebrated disrupters are those that maintain their disruptive nature despite the status quo rulebook that can stand in their way.
In 2012, I invested in a startup called Rubicon Global, which aims to be a disruptor in the waste industry by its focus on ending waste in all of its forms. I was drawn to what promised to be their disruptive capability to keep waste materials out of landfills and to do this more efficiently than its competitors—and I liked the maverick approach of the leadership who wanted to take on the big guys. Rubicon aims to take this a step farther and also address the wasted money and energy of the traditional waste process. By keeping materials out of landfills and creating a more circular economy through recycling and reuse, Rubicon strives to serve our planet and help curb climate change. Currently, the company is valued in excess of over $1 billion. This is one of dozens of disruptive companies I have invested in through my real estate clients.
Disruption for some people is natural, an innate quality with which we are born. We might not know it at the time, but we are often the freethinkers, destined to fly. For me, the first eighteen years of my life were a push/pull of trying to use my disruptive nature for good, not something to be stifled. I couldn’t sit still; I still can’t. I didn’t fit in the traditional classroom structure. I was a young kid with my mind made up that I would do it my way and not conform to others. I loved getting attention, and quickly became the class clown. Thank goodness for this, because at least my classmates had their eyes on me. But my teachers had other plans…and they weren’t having it. That didn’t stop me. With every laugh and pat on the back from my classmates, I only felt more empowered to continue my disruptive ways.
But it was only when I experienced learning outside of the classroom that I figured out that I could channel my disruptive personality into something that actually benefited me. My junior year in college, I decided to take my first real estate class at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. From the first moment, I was hooked. I remember it vividly, because it was one of the first times in my entire life that I found myself in a hyper-focused zone, truly locked in. It was also one of the first times I didn’t feel like I needed to cheat the system. I wanted to do all of my own work. It was at that moment in class, that I quickly decided to dive headfirst into the industry, using some of my newfound knowledge and enthusiasm to get a real estate license. Twenty-five years later, I am still as passionate as ever.
It was about that time that I started receiving positive reinforcement for my disruption. It was no longer a negative and punishable trait, as I was getting straight A’s and was as engaged in my studies like never before. Looking back through my years of schooling, I think I always had a sense of productive disruption; it was just a matter of how to channel it in a positive way in a world which often has little tolerance for the untraditional. It wasn’t like I strove to be the class clown; it was my way of coping and expressing myself in an environment where I didn’t fit and wasn’t succeeding. And I certainly didn’t enjoy the endless barrage of parent/teacher meetings. Those car-rides home really sucked.
Have you ever felt that way? Like you couldn’t fully connect and find purpose until you really found something that mattered to you? That you loved? That seemed to be your passion? Productive disruption starts with loving what you do. It is a function of true engagement, knowing that you not only can give 100%, but really want to.