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Innovation is Disruption, but not Interruption

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You want to try new things at work. You want to expand your business. But the process of innovation isn’t a recipe. How can you be inventive?

A key step is to change your expectations. One of my favorite quotes about this topic comes from the man who founded Atari:

“Everybody believes in innovation until they see it. Then they think, ‘Oh, no; that’ll never work. It’s too different.'” –Nolan Bushnell

But there’s more to innovating than doing things that are different. We also must break the current patterns. That’s what different is—not the same as we’ve always done.


© Flickr user PhotoAtelier

Most of us aren’t trying to create the next world-changing startup or cure a major disease. But there’s opportunity for innovation at most offices. You can transform the culture of meetings by having participants stand instead of sit. You increase efficiency by adding a second or third computer monitor. You can improve collaboration by switching from deadlines to collaboration zones.

But for any of these ideas to work, you must stop what you’re currently doing. We have to disrupt our current standard operating procedure for something new. So how do you step in and change course?

Innovation is Disruption, Not Interruption

The distinction to make is between disruption and interruption. Being disruptive is about finding a pattern that may lead to problems or frustrations, and intentionally breaking that pattern. This can be healthy, whether it’s breaking the pattern of never getting to the small stuff, or the breaking the pattern of market dominance of an outdated idea.

Interruption, however, is disruption without thinking. It’s stopping someone else from making progress because you’re being selfish. Or it’s denying another project the chance to continue without doing so intentionally.

Interruptions come from external sources that simply break our concentration. It’s the ringing phone or the ding of an email message. It’s a colleague wandering into our cubicle. Or it’s a new request taking priority over an old request. That’s not exciting disruption, it’s just annoying.

Here are some phrases to use when being disruptive:

Just this one time, can we try it a different way?

I bet you have an different idea, do you want to say more?

What if the way we’ve always done it isn’t good enough?

Can we take a moment to try an experiment?

If you compare that with the phrases used to make interruptions, you’ll come across the one word over and over again. See if you can spot it:

I know you’re busy, but can you take a look at this report?

The project is important, but this is an emergency.

We need to help customers at the counter, but we can’t let the phone ring more than three times.

I know the computer system is glitchy, but you just have to restart it every so often.

Interruptions are redirections. Whoever is initiating the interruption likely feels a twinge of guilt (or at least they should.) But disruptions are opportunities. A disruption is a new idea that may well fail but presents a possibility for positive change.

Innovation Requires Ongoing Disruption

Here’s one more distinction between interruptions and disruptions. We want other people, buzzing phones, and general annoyances to leave us alone. But for a company to continue to improve, those disruptions have to keep happening. And once you innovate, you can’t stop. Keep disrupting the patterns.

“It isn’t the incompetent who destroy an organization. The incompetent never get in a position to destroy it. It is those who achieved something and want to rest upon their achievements who are forever clogging things up.” –F. M. Young

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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