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January 24, 2014

Practicing Healthy (Quarantined) Disruption

January 24, 2014

Disruption has a bad rep. Businesses often see it as the enemy. It comes from all angles – the economy, the competition, employees, technology. This often leads to a bunker mentality. Businesses holding on for dear life as the storms of disruption come rolling in. So the idea of actually seeking out disruption feels counter-intuitive. But, if done right, healthy disruption can act as a vaccine against its destructive variant – you know, the one that regularly destroys companies like Blockbuster and Borders.

What does healthy disruption look like? First, it must be quarantined, it cannot run amuck. Why? Because a business, or more specifically, its people, cannot thrive in a state of constant disruption. Productivity, innovation and well-being plummets. You can spot these damaged businesses pretty easily. They often have visionary leaders that take the company down different rabbit holes on an almost daily basis. Usually these leaders have been able to amass some success through their talent, network, and work ethic. But, in many cases, they haven't allowed themselves to be held accountable in any real way. In time, their employees live in fear of the next big idea, knowing it will be followed in days or weeks by another big idea that will force everyone to ditch the previous one. Fatigue sets in and soon the employees feel, and sometimes look, like prisoners of war. I am speaking from personal experience here… :)

Disruption is a powerful corporate substance that must be handled with care. So how can we quarantine disruption?

At SmallBox we have found that time blocking is required to practice healthy disruption. Several years ago we were feeling pretty constipated, organizationally speaking. We had piles of ideas, projects, to-do's, etc. We never found the time to get these things done. This wasn't even because we had too much client work, no, it was because we were rarely in the same place at the same time for more than an hour. We realized that the key to relieving this constipation – our fiber, if you will – was being able to set aside everything else for a dedicated block of time.

This was how Factory Week was born. A week, twice a year, where we stop our business and take the entire company offsite and focus on clearing the pile, challenging the way we work, building new tools and looking to the future. We considered other models, including Google's 20% approach but realized that encouraged individual projects, not collaboration. We wanted to build the team, not just get stuff done.

Factory Week changed who we are – there is no chance we would have experienced the growth of the last few years without it. I know we now serve our clients better than before, and have a foundation for long term growth. But Factory Week is just one example of healthy disruption, it's something we've found that works. I believe that every business must do what works best for them.

So my advice to any business freaking out about how to keep up with the pace of innovation is to build structured (quarantined) spaces for your company to disrupt how it works in order to elevate it. This is counter to our hurry-up culture, but remember that one great idea fully implemented can be worth months or years of hard work. Take time to step away and give space to let ideas come out of hiding. They are there, waiting, I promise.

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