15 Things You Can Do Every Day to Disrupt the System


[photo credit: JLMaral on Flickr] I love disruption, especially when one is disrupting towards a positive end. When there is the ability to disrupt a dominant system that discriminates against people or favors those already in power - such as well, North America - I love it even more. So firstly, to outline what I propose to disrupt:

  1. Stereotyping - somehow, even though we examined stereotypes eons ago, the attitudes seem to persist. The problem is that now they persist in more subtle ways. Not so easy to put our finger on it and call it out, which is an issue.
  2. Individuality over community - this one is easy to spot and many will tell me it's a good thing. I don't think it is. There should be a balance, but if anything, I believe the balance should tip in the favour of community. Many studies have shown that putting community interests first actually benefits the individual more in the long-run. See: Non-Zero and The Origins of Virtue.
  3. No-Choice Consumerism - I'm not referring to monopolies as much as I am referring to the lack of choice we actually have in choosing to opt-in or opt-out. I love to shop. Anyone who knows me knows I have a bit of a passion for it. But when I do, I struggle to keep in charge of my own experience and outcome. There are too many situations where pressure, scare tactics, smoke and mirrors and general exploitation come into play while I'm trying to make a decision.
  4. Life Inc. - Also the name of an awesome book by Douglas Rushkoff, it's also the reality of a world of people emulating corporations. I see this all of the time: people concerned about their personal brand, creating an elevator pitch for their lives, choosing friends based on ability to connect to powerful people, creating an image they can never live up to and when it falls apart, they try to sweep under the carpet. It's emotionless, inauthentic and getting really boring if you ask me. I wrote about it a little here.

There are a few other themes, but I want to move along to the disruptions. Disruptions are unlike movements or protests or even flashmobs. They don't require a great deal of organizing and you can't really plan when you are going to perform them. The one thing they DO require is courage because they are about being hyper aware of the moment in which you see one of the above themes playing out and then questioning the theme openly - at the expense of being called a party pooper. But the awesome part of disruptions is that they are extremely powerful. When someone tells a racist joke and, instead of laughing, you say, "That's not funny," they will think twice about telling that joke again. So...here are 15 easy everyday ways to disrupt a system:

  1. Flip around your pronouns when storytelling, especially where they have been heavily gendered. Refer to a man caring for the kids/doing housework, refer to a woman as the CEO, etc. Not only are you breaking the cycle of bias in the brains of your listeners, you will get their attention. Like Chip and Dan Heath say in Made to Stick, the #2 way to make your idea stick is through unexpectedness.
  2. When talking to someone who uses gendered pronouns (or having someone tweet or blog gendered pronouns), gently suggest they read the previous suggestion. OR you can answer back flipping the pronoun if you want to be more subtle. It will make them think about it from that point forward.
  3. Look people in the eye and smile at them as you walk by them. Add a nod or 'good day' once you get the hang of it. This one is super simple and incredibly catchy. Research has shown that smiles spread.
  4. Diversify your examples. Find out what is happening beyond the whositwhatsits in your professional world and educate yourself on the people doing great work at the edges. In technology, it's me looking at what's happening in India, Europe, China, etc. as well as what's happening in Silicon Valley. Bring up these examples in conversations that highlight the whositwhatsits over and over again until people spread it onwards.
  5. Call out sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic or any other 'minority group as stereotype' jokes, references, slurs or language. This sounds like a d'uh thing, but it's really hard. Doing so makes you look like a party pooper. But really, the person making those comments should know that they look like an arse. You are doing everyone a favour.
  6. Don't buy products from companies that offend you or treat you badly. Most of us do this already, but sometimes it's really really convenient. Hell, I have a plan with AT&T. I need to not do that anymore. And I buy from American Apparel, even though their ads make me really angry. I need to stop that, too. It's inconvenient, but important to send the message through not spending our money to support bad companies.
  7. Take the time to talk with people with vastly different opinions. This is really hard. I usually get about 5 minutes into these conversations and want to scream and run away, but persistence (and patience) pays off. The first step is to stop trying to get them to listen to you and listen to them. Find a point of connection. There is usually more than one of those. Hear them out. Understand where they come from. Believe it or not, we usually want the same things, we just disagree on how we get there. Once the defenses are down, you'll find great solutions together and inform your own opinion.
  8. Take the time to get to know people with vastly different experiences of the world. This always blows my mind. I learn WAY more from having conversations with people who don't fit the 'mainstream' experience of the world than I do from bestsellers.
  9. Start taking people to task who talk about new media marketing in the same way Mad Men used old media marketing. If I see another new media guru use Don Draper's creative style as the ideal to uphold in marketing, I'll scream. No, that 'carousel' episode is still the epitome of how things 'were' (creating some sort of illusion to sell a product) and does not represent really connecting to one's customer. The real power in online communities comes from the ability to connect with new friends and old on a human level. Emotional. Real. It's less about how a company can co-opt and exploit that and more about what companies can learn from this. (more about this at a later date)
  10. Admit to your mistakes. Openly. Brutally honestly. And take responsibility for them. Then learn from them.
  11. Get to know your neighbours. Even the crab apples upstairs who tell you to turn down your bass. Spend time getting involved with your neighbourhood associations, events, etc. Reach out and create a supportive community. This is something else I need to do. I find this really scary. I don't know why. The benefits outweigh the potential rejection.
  12. Don't take bribes. What I mean by this is don't take a free voucher or delivery or whatever a company offers to you alleviate the pain they caused you with your transaction with them. Instead, ask for them to fix the problem. Take them to task and offer to give suggestions that may help them improve their service. For instance, I ordered a microwave from Future Shop and then got totally dicked around by their awful call in center. When they figured out I had >25,000 twitter followers, they contacted me offering all sorts of things, but I refused. I said, "I don't want you to fix this issue for me, I want you to fix this issue for everyone." Who knows if it'll be effective. I haven't shopped there since. I told them to call me when the call center is fixed and I'll try them again.
  13. Leave product reviews. There is a reason why sites like Yelp, Chowhound and Amazon are so popular. It's because of people like you and I leaving product reviews. I rarely buy anything - even offline - without checking the Amazon reviews. Yelp and Chowhounds are my personal foodie guides wherever I go. And in Montreal, I found this amazing list of restaurant reviews. Generous people sharing their knowledge everyday makes the world an easier place to navigate.
  14. Demand your data. Why? Because if this awesome group has their way, the future will be driven by the customer and then you'll want all of the content and reputation and identity and history you've been depositing around the internet for years. It will be valuable for your experience and for YOU to leverage your own power. So, click on that little 'suggestion' tab or 'feedback' button and say to the networks you are making more interesting with your contributions: "Hey, have you thought about giving me the opportunity to export my reviews/tweets/photos/connections/shopping history/preferences/etc to use elsewhere?" The more requests they get, the more they'll be pressured to do this.
  15. Use all the tools available to you to call out injustices and bad experiences. The beauty of the web is that there are literally hundreds and even thousands of others who have experienced similar situations. If you get pissed enough and have enough momentum, you can even start to do something about it. The United Breaks Guitars videos did an amazing job of getting dozens of people to share their experiences (and also refused to take a bribe by asking United to make a donation). And as I wrote here, even spreading the word through blogs and tweets makes a difference.

Of course, these small steps are only icebreakers to apathy, but we all get so busy that starting somewhere that fits in our schedules yet is bigger than a tweet is a good start. And each of these small disruptions packs a big punch. Good disrupting!

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