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Being Truly Disruptive - Nhung Le Nguyen

May 18, 2018 | Nhung Le Nguyen


I hear speakers use the buzz phrase “be disruptive” and I often wonder whether they have considered the power behind their choice of words.

Last year was remarkable for disruptive women. All around the world, women were making themselves heard, confounding the norm and inciting radical change in all areas. From the #MeToo campaign, a viral drive to call out sexual assault and harassment, to strong female individuals, like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who retains the top spot on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list for the seventh consecutive year and 12 times in total – 2017 was a year dominated by women speaking out and fighting back.

In the tech world, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who has become increasingly outspoken about the gender gap in Silicon Valley, were renouncing the ‘brogrammer mentality’ with new collaborative leadership models delivering impressive financial returns. In addition, Gail Carmichael, a highly regarded computer scientist, blogger, and educator at Shopify, made significant progress in improving the experience of teaching computational thinking.

Now, in 2018, everywhere you look, there are women with big ideas and big actions in pursuit of disruptive leadership and innovation.

What is it that these women have in common? Partly, it is their refusal to settle for the status quo. Dissatisfied with existing leadership and established processes, they are smashing expectations as well as the glass ceiling with new ideas. They are disruptors and live their lives to their full potential and are definitely not afraid to take the outside lane if the inside one is blocked.

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What does it actually mean to “be disruptive”? People are often confused about the difference between disruption and innovation. In my view, innovators create things, but disruptors remake the system itself. They challenge the way we think and behave by positing radical new alternatives that transform old ways of doing things. By bucking the system, disruptive women displace an existing business practice or technology with a new, more efficient solution, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who coined the term ‘disruptive innovation’.

I am inspired by these women, and by those who invest time in working out who they are and what they want to achieve. I truly believe in the importance of having an unshakable internal compass, especially for when things get rough – and they will.

Oprah Winfrey, for example, believes that “excellence is the best deterrent” to sexism. Oprah rose to become the darling of American talk shows, a best-selling author, the first African-American billionaire in the US, a cultural icon and household name, and one of the world's most influential women. And, after her speech at the Golden Globe Awards, many think she should make a run for the presidency in 2020.

I realise that it’s so much easier not to speak up, to do what is expected of you, to care about what other people think and to follow a path that everyone has walked on before, but there are so many powerful female leaders from all walks of life who have embraced a philosophy of shaking the tree and not settling for second best and if you want to stay in the debate – as I decided I did – you have to choose to be a disruptor just like them.