Learning Strategy

Decoding Disruption: The Thin Line Between Genius and Chaos

There’s an old saying that I use in partnership meetings, “Don’t be a bull in a china shop” aka taking a hard-line approach to something in an environment that isn’t built for it.

I’ve seen this approach backfire with L&D consultants and vendors countless times.

Why does it happen?


They don’t take the time to understand these 3 things:

  1. Culture
  2. Context
  3. Constraints

If you don’t understand these elements, you can’t help an organisation solve its problems.

Disrupt, smartly

Let’s bring this to life with an example.

You’re a forward-thinking L&D pro, desperate to leave the barren wastelands of e-learning behind to propel your organisation’s learning design approach into the modern era. Or, at least beyond 1998.

I get it. You want to start some change.

Now, you have a choice here.

1. Smart Disruption

This focuses on intelligently moving the company forward.

It’s a slow and steady approach to enabling change in the way people work.

It’s not the sexy approach all those LinkedIn posts talk about with “moving fast and breaking things”. The reality for most companies is not this.

You want to be smart.

Smart is cool. It’s a long game which you can win. You’re not asking to reinvent the wheel the next day here, you’re promoting small gains.

You test and move thinking 1 – 5% through each experience. You’re co-creating with others, not telling them they’re all wrong and you’re right.

2. Chaotic Disruption

There is no easier way to describe this, so I’m just going to say it.

This is a dumb strategy.

It might be the one you see plastered on social media posts and hyped up like a pro wrestling match on podcasts. Yet, it has huge real-world consequences. The ‘captain obvious’ statements proclaiming L&D needs to do this or that online are so easy to write.

But in the real world, it ain’t so straightforward, friend.

If you walk into a meeting with senior leaders tell them everything they’re doing is wrong because you need to create disruption. That’s not going to end well.

The problem is too many think chaotic disruption is the right type of disruption to deploy.

As a society, we’ve worshipped this across different channels, yet it doesn’t work 99.9% of the time because those who deploy this strategy have no clue about the 3 things we outlined earlier (culture, context and constraints).

This strategy is fast, uncontrollable and leads to more harm than good.

It’s also responsible for ending people’s careers and consultants losing work. You can’t just disrupt something this way because you think it should be another way.

That ain’t going to work. Trust me.

How to apply this in your work

Business leaders can be a tough crowd.

Winning hearts and minds as an L&D pro is an art.

When a stakeholder wants a particular solution and you know you have no leverage in the matter, don’t fight it.

The battle will be pointless and you’ll likely end up in the same place.

Instead, build the solution(s) they want but drop in 10% of the stuff you know works better. The play here is to neither give up nor try to start a war.

You find opportunities to weave in new ways of thinking and approaches into existing experiences.

You’ll then compound this play over time.

What I’ve found is stakeholders typically get excited about that 10% bit and want more of that. It’s not a 100% win rate of course.

It has to be something that delivers a clear impact. You can’t do something different to have it fall flat and kill your own play.

The idea is to be strategic in your order-taking.

You can’t expect people to change because you tell them to. It takes months even years to win hearts and minds.

Play the smart game. Make friends, not enemies.

Before you go… 👋

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