Skip to content

Deep Disruption (Part II): Three Key Insights For Igniting Creativity & Collaborative Sensemaking

March 1, 2015


With the massive, disorienting surge of digital technology and social sharing, organizations are forced to think more and more about managing disruption. But managing disruption is no longer enough.  These days, new tools and insights are needed in order for organizations to leverage disruption–and in so doing, unlock its deeper potential as a source of creativity and resilience.

This piece offers the following three key insights to help you get a jumpstart on that.

  1. Disruption has always been a normal part of life. By speeding things up, technology simply makes that fact unavoidable.
  2. Because disruption challenges familiar norms, it offers an opportunity to break from outdated, formalized routines to fresher, more integrative thinking.
  3. Disruption eats heroic solutions for breakfast; complex challenges call for problem-solving rooted in collaborative sensemaking.


Disruption: It’s Here To Stay; In Fact, It Never Went Away

Insight #1: Disruption has always been a normal part of life. By speeding things up, technology simply makes that fact unavoidable.

Voltaire once said “Everything is fine today, that is our illusion.” Thus, given the choice, who wouldn’t choose to avoid disruption? So it should be no surprise that some firms find the term so fraught with angst that they’ve actually banned uttering the word itself.

Yet, on the other end of the scale, thought leaders like Harvard’s Clayton Christensen  or James McQuivey have taken a different route and instead championed the idea that disruption is a critical tool for those seeking market dominance.

But despite appearances, disruption is not a new phenomena; infact, it’s always been here. Consider for instance that the ancient Greeks debated the issue of change vs. stability just as fiercely as we do today. For us, it may seem new, but that’s only because for thousands of years customs and institutions were so stable it was easy to believe that change was an isolated event. The only difference now is the frequency with which the illusion of stability is accosted.

This is why we need new thinking based on the notion of deep disruptiona broader approach to disruption that aims to dispel the angst by overturning the idea of change-as-the-exception. Deep disruption draws from those thinkers like Whitehead and Follett who saw disruption as an opportunity to engage with the natural, creative flow of life itself.

But as many are aware, seeing disruption as an asset flies right in the face of traditional organizational thinking. With its mad quest for perfect prediction and unshakable stability, modern management continues to operate from a 400-year-old mechanistic mindset that favors stability over change, rules over sensemaking, authority over experience.

Even nearly a century ago–as the height of the Taylor’s scientific management craze–some were calling for more responsive alternatives. In 1924 Mary Parker Follett saw that to be effective business needed a new way of thinking, one that saw disruption as a reservoir of renewal and creativity. She wrote “it is disruption which leads to fresh and more fruitful unitings”.

With the emergence of social business practices we now have the change to leverage the fruits of disruption. By offering platforms for both customers and workforce share ideas and insights, disruption becomes a portal for a kind of collaborative sensemaking that brings together diverse perspectives. In turn, this results in new ways of seeing challenges and approaching opportunities.


Disruption: A Gateway To New Thinking

Insight #2: Because disruption challenges familiar norms, it offers an opportunity to break from outdated, formalized routines to fresher, more integrative thinking.

Way back in 1911, the father of modern management, Frederick Taylor prescribed the following approach for dealing with breakdowns and inefficiencies:

…there is always one method and one implement which is quicker and better than any of the rest. And this one best method and best implement can only be discovered or developed through a scientific study and analysis of all of the methods and implements in use. (p. 9)

This “one right way” thinking is the product of the mechanistic assumptions upon which modern management thinking is built. Given the assumption that there is only one right way (which, coincidently, is usually the same right way advocated by senior management), it follows that any disruption to that one right way, left unchecked, will trigger widespread angst and the system’s eventual collapse.

However, as we’ve heard, mechanist, one right way thinking is simply useless in the face of the complex, highly ambiguous challenges common to a knowledge-based economy.

Consider, for example, Morgan’s point that

If a system has a sufficient degree of internal complexity, randomness and diversity and instability become resources for change.  New order is a natural outcome. (p. 252)

But cultivating such an order, requires a clean break from modern management’s rationalist ideal of knowledge creation. As I wrote previously,

Valid knowledge is based on rational thought that allows for order, stability, and the control of outcomes. Any knowledge based on collective experience or emotions is flawed as it is highly subjective and contextual.

Thus we see how traditional approaches to knowledge management can view randomness and diversity as distractions or even threats. If a system depends upon predictablity and order for its survival, nonrational or subjective knowledge will only undermine the status quo.

And this is exactly why, more than ever, we need this kind of subversive thinking. Not only do organizations need new ideas, they need new platforms for generating them.

And therein lies the beauty of social.


Disruption: Out With Heroicism & In With Social Sensemaking

Insight #3: Disruption eats heroic solutions for breakfast; complex challenges call for problem-solving rooted in collaborative sensemaking.

Einstein said “No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it.” The beauty of social business is in the power of connection; that connection, if properly framed, can generate more effective ideas along with new ways of collaborative thinking that hold the potential of transcending the complexity of the problems they address.

As we see how social business has developed so far, we see preliminary indications of the emergence of new, more socially-connected forms of thinking. As an example, Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt make the case that enterprise intergration of social platforms is about far more than information sharing; it’s about developing a new, more open relationships between and amongst customers and employees. Here we see collaborative knowledge-sharing as the newly emergent norm.

Thus, we can quickly set aside the notion that social business is only about giving everyone an equal say. It’s about so much more more than that. By giving voice to new thinking that goes beyond the Tayloresque one right way mindset, social sharing is a clear indication of more dynamic and distributed modes of idea generation. In this way rapidly emerging collaborative platforms signal the development of more complex responses to disruption based upon more complex forms of collaborative sensemaking.

Thus business’s integration of social platforms offers the promise of more diverse and distributed ways of making sense of the world.  As the disruptions grow ever more confounding and the sugar pill of Voltaire’s “Everything is fine today” grows ever more precarious, humans must cultivate ways of understanding each other and the world that go beyond the familiar patterns and tap into new systems of thought we can only manifest together.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2015 10:21 am

    More great stuff, David! Over the past two years, Denise Easton and I have been researching and writing about the dynamics of disruptive experience. Our forthcoming book, FLUXed: Survive and Thrive in a World of Uncertainty is all about the points you make here. You can read some of our thinking in our article “The World According to FLUX,” which was published in the Journal for Quality and Participation. We have other info at our site,

    We describe what we believe to be the universal patterning and dynamics of disruptive experience. How our beliefs, values, and preferences are formed. How our stance and actions in the world provide the contexts for both stability and surprise/disruption. We describe the four domains in which our experience impacts us- our emotions; our knowledge; our insight; our ability to act into the unknown future.

    I think we have lots to talk about the next time we meet! 🙂

    Take care, and keep the ideas flowing!


  2. Yvonne Aburrow permalink
    August 12, 2016 7:16 am

    Back in the early 2000s, I was involved with a group who were trying to integrate the ideas of Heraclitus and Taoism into business and science and stuff. They called their ideas inclusionality. I think they are still writing stuff.

    Taking the model that everything is always in flux seems much more sensible to me than assuming the natural state is stasis and seeing change as a disruption.

    Great post, much food for thought.

    • August 12, 2016 11:14 am

      Thanks Yvonne! I’m presently compiling data from a study I did at a organization that has repeated encountered disruption and chaotic change. I’ve been interviewing managers there in order to find out what works and what does not when working under such conditions. I’m consistenly seeing that relational strategies that acknowledge and accomodate flux as the norm are far more effective than traditional top-down, command and control methods. While, like you, I believe that Heraclitus’s teachings were affirming this 2500 years ago, it’s good to have data that clearly supports this notion.



  1. Deep Disruption: New Insight For Social Era Organizations (Part 1) | gonna.grow.wings

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: