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Who is a Disruptor?

By James Benham
By James Benham

A disruptive person has a fairly negative connotation but hear me out. Sometimes it can be useful to be disruptive. I think it should be used as a tool to drive innovation and new technology. Am I a disruptor? I hope so! I have a few thoughts on disruption and how I’ve harnessed it in my company.

What’s bugging you?

I would say as an individual, a disruptor is someone who steps in to an organization and begins to look for ways in which they can fix what bugs people. It’s amazing when you use that phrase the responses you get. We use that phrase a lot at our company after reading “Two Second Lean” by Paul Akers. I use that phrase a lot just internally in my head. Fix what bugs you, fix what bugs you.

As the disruptor-in-chief, I think the conversation starts with listening to the team. Successful disruptors need to listen, and where appropriate, act on what they are hearing. Encouraging voices to be heard can unlock an idea, disrupt the status quo, in a way that I hadn’t thought about.

The disruption train is always coming for you. My father, Jim Benham, taught me what I needed to know about running a business. I got a master’s degree in business from Texas A&M, but I got an MBA from Jim, and one of the things he always told me is, “James’ business is like a tiger. You hop on its back and you grip real tight and you try not to let it knock you off, because when it does, it eats you.” Pretty vicious, pretty brutal but that is truth if you are not a disruptor. Even disruptive companies get disrupted if they stay still for too long. Just look at Craigslist (a disruptor of classified ads) getting disrupted by Facebook Marketplace.

Constructing and deconstructing disruption

As the CEO of JB Knowledge, the sandbox we play in is construction and risk management. That’s it. Those are the only two industries we work in. We work for general contractors, subcontractors, insurance carriers, TPAS, and brokers. We are just super, super, super geeky. We have 171 software engineers in our company and we’re a bootstrapped company (we didn’t raise any outside funding in almost 20 years of business operations.) I tell you all this because disruption is how the company got this far.

To thrive in this hard nosed industry, disruption is a daily part of our ethos. Why? The impacts are positively, positive! Disruption helps our organization adapt to the current business climate making us smarter and more competitive. Well thought out disruption uncovers pockets of closed minds and resistance to change. If you have team members who want things to stay the same, disruption will identify them quickly. Disruption encourages innovation and, in turn, surprises your competition. Transforming the marketplace and raising the eyebrows of our customers and competitors is what good disruption can do. Disruption can come in large and small packages as well. I personally prefer disrupting existing processes rather than inventing entirely new business segments. Disruption also doesn’t have to be technological in nature – pricing and business models themselves can be very disruptive even without the introduction of radically different technology.

Frustration and being disruptive when not paired with a sense of self control is actually very negative. But when it’s used as a tool to change the status quo, to push an organization forward, to constantly improve, to fix what bugs you, it can result in a very profitable business. It can result in happier people. It’s really amazing what the outcome can be.

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