Greatness in Disrupters

October 19, 2015, Whitney Johnson’s article “Personal Disruption: 14 Role Models + 7 Books to Get You Started”, on LinkedIn caught my attention.  Most especially, her last comments:

“Who should be on this list that isn’t?

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx
Bill Gates
Edmund Hillary, the first person to scale Mt. Everest
Michael Jackson
Jesus, the ultimate disruptor of self and society, Gandhi and Martin Luther King
Steve Jobs
Bobby Kennedy, who was willing to change his opinion publicly, like on the Vietnam War (Battle entitlement)
Barack Obama
Sean Parker, for his rebellious approach, not execution, co-founded Napster
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal
John Walker, who ran the 1st 4-minute mile

While I don’t know the rationale for listing these individuals, except for Bobby Kennedy, it would appear that we don’t consider women to be disruptors. This is odd to me. If anyone knows how to play where no one else is playing (being left out of existing networks) and to work within constraints (women are chronically under-resourced), it’s women.



That invitation unleashed a three-and-a-half-page response of incomplete thoughts.  My first thought was, ‘When it is natural to the human instinct that “Our society tends to judge men on potential and women on track record…” then it is only natural that we do not think of the great women disruptors as great leaders.’

But then, I went on to discuss several women I considered to be great disruptors.  Each of them has a stabilizing partner.  As I considered this idea, I realized that women who rise to great power are often not in power positions for long periods of time because they are disrupters.  Those who stay in power for any length of time, have in their retinue at least one superb stabilizer.

Why we judge women by their track record and men by their potential is a discussion for another time. It will focus on who the original disrupters and stabilizers are.  Today, let’s just briefly touch on what history shows us about women as disrupters in just one story.   Most great heroines of history are great disrupters. The key question is, once they have disrupted, do they then stabilize the situation with a place of safety in which the next S-curve can be created.

A list of great heroines in history might include Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Abigail Adams, Sacagawea, Sappho, Catherine the Great, Indira Gandhi, Cleopatra, Pearl S. Buck, Helen Foster Snow, Malala Yousafzai, Nefertiti…the list could go on and on.  I think, if we look for powerful women who have remained in the annals of history, we will find great disruptors.

How does history treat the great women heroines who have so greatly disrupted? What can history teach us about stability in their lives and the people they shaped?

One of the oldest stories of a great woman in history since the meridian of time is that of Joan of Arc.  She was a great disrupter.  She upended the entire way of life of the French nobility.  She claimed France for the French common people and lead the French nobility to shake off the enslavement of their relatives from England who wished to establish that France was really English.

As she strove to continue her disruptive campaign, she was abandoned by the French nobility who wished to regroup and were struggling to keep up with her campaign.  When they hesitated, she fell into the hands of her enemies and they handed her over to the British to be tried for heresy.  Her death by fire was a warning to any woman of her time who was aspiring to step forward and lead.

In her story lies the danger of disrupting.  Every disrupter needs to be balanced by a stabilizer who keeps the disrupter safe and who recognizes a need to regroup and reassess before the next phase of the campaign begins. It is my observation that therein lies the danger of disrupting and how women benefit from the strengths of men.

Here I would like to add another part to that observation about men and women.  I have heard since about the 1980’s that while men have greater muscle strength than women, women have greater endurance. This is now being supported by research studying Ultramarathon runners.  “When women and men with equivalent marathon times are pitted against each other in ultras, the women tend to win.” [2] And “women can sometimes finish ultramarathons in times similar to those of men who can beat them in “short” (26.2-mile) marathons.”[3]

I have observed that men do very well in things that require a large muscle strength and fast effort.  And, I have often observed women who labor long hours without recognition in order to secure a victory in their disruption.  This is something of significance. Men are wired to work hard and fast, and when fatigue sets in, to choose rest and regenerate.  Meanwhile, women have great endurance and will often continue to labor long after the men involved in the same project have taken a break to rest, sometimes to their detriment.  The cause of this difference is not nearly so important as how we use this information.  Knowing that a great disruptor cannot exist without a great stabilizer empowers powerful people.  Understanding how to use this knowledge can create a comfortableness with growth and change.

In a team that balances the strengths of men and women, men greatly benefit from the women in their lives who tend to be greater disrupters.  On the other side of the coin, women who take time for R&R at an earlier point than perhaps they desire, will have the opportunity to step back and notice the need for a new S-curve disruption.  During the play of recreation, the subconscious has time to reassess the potential outcomes of current strategy and create new S-curves of disruption.

Sometimes we need to stretch out the top of the current S-curve for R&R.  Ideally, if we use the male tendency for an earlier break for R&R as a protective shelter at the top of the S-curve, women can use the top of the S-curve to envision the bottom of a new S-curve sooner.  This should allow the bottom of the next S-curve to be shorter.  With a professional support team in place, to put out the message that new stuff is coming while continuing to propel the top of the last S-curve, a development team will have the time needed to develop the next S-curve in a place of stability while the last S-curve is still completing its course. This technique is available to help us establish stability in business and in our personal lives.

This blog post has introduced you to the idea of a disruptor and a stabilizer working together to create success.  Next, we will see how roles can change while the stabilizer and the disrupter continue to be fulfilled and satisfied in their jobs of disrupting and stabilizing. Ultimately, this will lead to a discussion of how we can have growth and change without contention.

[1] Whitney Johnson, “Personal Disruption: 14 Role Models + 7 Books to Get You Started”,, LinkedIn Corp. © 2016, October 14, 2015.

[2] Greg Crowther, “Gender and endurance performance”, Northwest Runner,, August, 2001.

[3] Ibid.


One thought on “Greatness in Disrupters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s