disruptor noun

a person or thing that interrupts an event, activity, or process by causing a disturbance or problem.”the film follows his evolution from Hollywood star to political disruptor”

a company or form of technology that causes radical change in an existing industry or market by means of innovation.”the company is becoming a major disruptor in the healthcare industry”

BIOLOGY a thing that interferes with or significantly alters the structure or function of a biological molecule such as a gene or hormone.”several drugs show promise as DNA disruptors in cancer cells”

The pandemic was itself a disruptor, but it has perhaps also made us more likely to promote disruptors to positions of power. People like Cummings (above) and the boss who dissapointed him, Johnson.

Truss and Kwarteng are a purer form of the same thing, at least in terms of their belief in an ideological solution to our complex problems.

All have since crashed an burned. I supect none of them are in the slightest bit repentant because most disruptors carry the whiff of the fanatic.

I confess that I too have been a disruptor. In a former life, I was tasked with the reorganisation of a mental health system. Finally, my long developed convictions (and perhaps prejudices) about what a mental health system needed to look like could be actioned. I had all the research, and I was doing things that were above all, right. The fact that many of these changes required massive disruptions to the way that the service had traditoinally done things – more than this, in the way they understood things – was a shame, but that was not going to stop me from trying.

There is a long story here which I will not engage with just now, but I too crashed an burned, but I do not regret trying. I just wish I could have been better at making things happen. I wish that those who resisted and complained had instead joined my wholeheartedly in doing things that I still think needed to be done and indeed will be done elsewhere.

But then, I am a disruptor. I would say that, right?

Changing institutions is notoriously difficult. Often they need to fall in to ruins before those inside will accept the need to rebuild them. I was trying to fast-track this process but lacked certain crucial skills because disruption alone is rarely enough, even if (as I like to think was the case with what I was attempting) you are on the side of the angels.

Consider the role of the old testament prophets, most of whom also crashed and burned. Their role is often misunderstood as being predictors-of-the-future, some kind of state soothsayers/fortune-tellers. It is better to understand them as holy disruptors, whose role was to speak truth to power; to call the kings and priests back to the calling that they had forgotten.

The role of the truth-teller in the Old Testament (or in the New Testament, in the example of Jesus) seems an important one in any change process. We need people to look at what is and shout loudly that ‘we can do better’. However Cummings and Kwarteng and me are not Elijah, Jacob or Isaiah. Not even close. What hope was there ever that we could bring about change that mattered? It is easy to throw stones, but you need someone to make new windows. It is even easy to preach compassion, but someone still has to get their hands dirty in the mess of other peoples suffering.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

We all have our favourite disruptor though. They tend to be the prophets from our tribe, who preach words that make us feel that we are right and that others are clearly wrong. In promoting our personal disrupt-saviours, we preserve the status quo. We allow the same sectarian factions to prosper. We fail to form any momentum towards change.

I think this was one of my (many) problems in trying to lead change in mental health services. I needed a skill-set that I lacked, around engaging, compromising, building relationships with others who were different from me and focussing on the hard work of fine detail plans. In other words, change, even if inspired by disruptors, then needs politicians, planners and completers. I was none of these things.

Ideology matters too of course, in terms of the values that underpin our disruptive instincts, but success (measured in terms of change) requires…


(Whose party I am a disruptive, disatisfied member of still, by the skin of my clenched teeth!)

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