Innovation Requires Disruptors
Is it possible that a harmonious company “culture” stunts growth and innovation?
They say that startups defeat legacy companies because entrepreneurs are hungry and nimble. But maybe it’s because successful entrepreneurs are villains who don’t fit into corporate cultures and established organizations block and purge them from their ranks.
Do conventional hiring approaches select for talented, educated “superhero responders” and discriminate against “scheming disruptor villains”?
Pulling on a Balaji Srinivasan tweet thread led me to anthropologist David Graeber’s 2012 review of the Batman movie Dark Knight Rises where he looks at superheroes through a Freudian/Anarchist lens.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on here. These” heroes” are purely reactionary, in the literal sense. They have no projects of their own, at least not in their role as heroes: as Clark Kent, Superman may be constantly trying to get into Lois Lane’s pants, but as Superman, he is purely reactive. In fact, superheroes seem almost utterly lacking in imagination: like Bruce Wayne, who with all the money in the world can’t seem to think of anything to do with it other than the occasional act of charity; it never seems to occur to Superman that he could easily carve free magic cities out of mountains.
Almost never do Superheroes make, create, or build anything. The villains, in contrast, are endlessly creative. They are full of plans and projects and ideas.”
Through a Working Genius lens, this describes the concept of disruptive and responsive geniuses.
In the model, there are three phases to a project. Ideation, Activation, and Implementation. Within each phase there are two geniuses; one responds the other disrupts.
In the Ideation phase, a team defines challenges and generates solutions. The genius of Wonder identifies the need for improvement or change. The Inventor has the ideas and creates solutions.
Inventors are often both revered and feared. Admired and reviled. Here’s Graeber's Freudian take,
“ Clearly, we are supposed to first, without consciously realizing it, identify with the villains. After all, they’re having all the fun. Then of course we feel guilty for it, re-identify with the hero, and have even more fun watching the superego clubbing the errant Id back into submission.”
Every project intended to create a change requires all six working geniuses: disruptive (Villian) genius of Invention, Galvanize, and Tenacity, and the responsive (superhero) genius of Wonder, Discernment, and Enablement.
You can predict a team's innovation capacity by looking at a team map showing everyone’s working geniuses and frustrations. A well-balanced team of villains and superheroes will identify the correct problems and generate and execute creative and practical solutions.