Embrace Disruptive Change

10 Disruptive Change Agents – Thriving in Chaos

Remember Get Smart the popular comedy television show in the 60’s? I do. It centered on the life of Maxwell Smart, hapless secret agent. The thing that sticks out in my mind is the overall theme, the forces for good working in a shadow spy organization to maintain order. The villainous spy organization known as “Kaos” working to destroy that order and everything we hold dear. We are programed from an early age to learn this lesson, disruption is bad! When I was watching Maxwell Smart the idea of being a disruptive change agent was met with a sound cracking with a yardstick over my knuckles by a frustrated Catholic nun. Sister, you were wrong! Disruption as it turns out is very good.

10 Notable Disruptors of the Status Quo (In no particular order) 

1.    Women in Industry

I have been lucky over my career to have worked with very interesting people. One of the things I did during the early stages in my career was work on a Cruise Line. Working on the Cruise Staff of a super-liner as a young single guy you notice one thing that stands out. Women, lots of them from all over the world. The industry employs a lot of women and the infrastructure that supports the industry supports a lot more.

I worked on the cruise ships in the late 90’s when the industry was really starting to grow and thrive. The management staff from a gender equity standpoint however was pretty status quo. At the time I never considered how the industry would evolve and change and what would happen next.

I recently wrote an article about Carnival Cruise Lines and reconnected with some folks I used to work with and interestingly I connected with some new senior leaders in the industry. I could not help notice that many women who worked in supportive roles in related industry who were managers or department heads while I was working there were now senior leadership.

Gender Equality and Industry

At first it did not strike me as odd I met a lot of very capable women during my career and of course a number of these women would get ahead in industry. I looked across the industry and noticed that some of the women I knew as directors were in very senior positions and some of the women who were leaders in related industries had moved into the industry as President, CEO, SVP.

It struck me as interesting because I noted several at first. I wondered as I dug a little deeper how many women were in the pipeline in positions coming up the corporate latter. Something stuck out to me, not only the number of women increasing, but the roles they these up and coming women were filling.

One such female is Edie Rodriquez, CEO of Crystal Cruise Lines, who I admire. She has come to power in an industry formerly dominated by men, despite the odds and her determination, and grit stand out in my mind as key factors in her success. She not only runs a Cruise Line she runs Crystal Cruise Lines, rated number one in quality for many years. Setting the benchmark for quality as a frontrunner.



What stood out in my mind was the dynamics of human nature. You may think you are the most impartial and just decent executive in the world who is not swayed at all by any bias. Then it happens, someone who comes into your organization went to your college, vacationed in the same beach town, played the same sport and without realizing it your comfort level lends itself to bring that young exec up the corporate latter to the C-Suite. We even coined a name for the “Old Boys Club”.

Dynamics of Change – Gender Equality in the C-Suite

Women in the cruise industry who have entered into the senior leadership have statistically overwhelmingly worked for men during their career. According to statistics 94% the last I checked of Fortune 500 CEO’s were men. But, and here in lies the rub, some are women who figured out how to thrive in industry. One I was very lucky to work for Kathy Mazzarella.




Executive Profile

Kathleen M. Mazzarella

Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President,

Graybar Electric Company, Inc.

See Board Relationships

$3,576,370 (Estimated Income)

As of Fiscal Year 2016


Ms. Kathleen M. Mazzarella, also known as Kathy, has been the Chief Executive Officer and President of Graybar Canada Limited since June 1, 2012. Ms. Mazzarella has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of Graybar Electric Company, Inc. since June 01, 2012. She served as the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at Graybar Electric Company, Inc. from December 2010 to May 2012. She served as a Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Graybar…



If I continued to list her credentials it would fill the page. Kathy suffice it to say is very successful. She has thrived and succeeded in a male dominated industry and has bucked the status quo. Women in industry have a unique advantage when judging other executives, they are more likely to more seriously consider all candidates equally

These women have worked in a male dominated world of very intelligent and powerful men, have had mentors that were males along the way but also were shaped by their own passion and desire to be great and cultivated female role models. Hell now they are female role models themselves.

Female Industry Leaders Cultivating a New Generation of Leadership

This change will keep happening with every successive wave of leadership change powerful women will begin to bring more women into the workforce into leadership over time. In my humble opinion this will be a force that changes the dynamics of business conversations and changes the tone in engagement.

Every man I know who daughters told me having daughters made them better men. They were more careful about how they spoke and acted around their daughters than their sons because they were a bit more protective of their little girls. But the interesting thing that struck me was them being more attentive, more sympathetic, more understanding made them better listeners, and hearing more of what was needed most were able to provide in a more compassionate and engaged way.

Cut to women working in industry, if this totally unscientific sampling of men I know is indicative of an overall larger trend of men interacting with women. Women in industry will change the “tone” of the conversations, they will shift the perspectives of leadership and improve the quality of interaction in business.

I recently read an article where a very senior executive was asked what his management style was, he replied it was empathy, he was surprised at the question and had never been asked. The reply he got was, why not compassion? Have you tried compassion? 

In a modern world of connected executives from around the world a greater degree of sensitivity and finesse is required to succeed. It is no longer enough to be understanding, you have to be understanding and care about outcomes so you synthesize your solution sets around engaged and satisfied employees rather than mandating change as you see fit. As the demands on workers increase and productivity gets higher and higher people want to know that their concerns are not only discussed but brought into the larger conversation of company policy and culture. This will be a powerful disruptor of the status quo and a change for good in industry. In Kathy’s recent article she speaks about the quality of life and work life balance.


2. Technology as Disruptor



We all know the names of amazing companies that have and continue to spearhead disruptive change, Apple, Tesla, Space X to name a few.




In a new digital age technology will play a leading role in the frequency of change and the dynamics of change and it has already increased the rate and severity so much now we commonly use the term “Disruptive” change.


3. Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Everything


There are few technologies that I know of today that are more interesting than an automated custom made world. A “smart” building and “smart” technology. The idea that someday I will walk into a building and it might know who I am and could even tailor an experience designed for my person comfort is amazing.

You already seeing this in homes and business’ but it will continue to change in ways I cannot predict or imagine.

My parents both worked in the defense industry for their whole career. They worked for a sub-contract organization that was at that time on the leading edge of innovation, technology and change. They would have “family day” and one of the things that would fascinate the kids would be a computer programmer making a giant Snoopy the Dog poster from 1’s and 0’s by programing a computer to print the image on green and while lined paper. At that time there was a very large “computer room” where IBM computers were working 24 hours a day. A giant interconnected web of computational power unlike any the world had seen before. Running digital information onto reel to reel tape to change the way the world was working at the time.

Now the telephone in my pocket has more computational power than that whole room probably. Before my Mother passed away Apple announced it had crossed the threshold of supercomputing in portable form. They now had a machine that could make 1,000,000 computations in one second.

This computer was so powerful it was banned from sale in certain countries. I asked my Mom if I told her that I would have a computer in my brief case that would be more powerful than that whole room of computer at work, what would she have said in the 70’s. She said without any hesitation I would not have believed that was even possible at that time. I probably would have laughed.

4. Energy as Disruptor

Yes we of course thing of solar power as a technology of tomorrow but now with the advent of better more powerful battery systems the concept of solar power being stored and viable for consumer use on a much larger scale is not only possible but happening right now with Elon Musk in Australia.

1499415878495_financial times


5. Microgrids


This battery technology combined with technology like a microgrid have tantalizing possibilities for things changing in another entrenched old school business energy. What will happen with solar and battery storage in the future is far from certain but my point is we live in a time of interesting and increasingly relevant changes that will have a greater and greater impact on the quality of our lives. Below I will post an article about what microgrids are for anyone who would be interested.


6. Emerging Technologies

As we look to tomorrow the companies that are best at embracing changes are going to be the ones that thrive. The companies that harness the dynamic nature of change as a force of good will be the ones who lead not follow in a modern age.


7. Controls and Devices

There are companies like www.GraybarElectric.com www.schneider-electric.com/ www.legrand.com that will lead the way in connected devices and controls that will shape the future and it is an exciting time to live. I cannot predict the number of changes and the nature of changes but the one thing I know is things are going to change. Changing for the better is up to those companies in leadership positions that embrace change and harness the power of chaos and disruption for the betterment of our lives


8. Transportation

I could write all day if I include every major disruptive technology but another major entrenched and old school industry is being disrupted by Hyperloop technology. High speed trains, once the most modern thing in transportation and reserved for just a few countries with the technology and money to carry the idea out is not old news. I am not a conspiracy theorist but Elon Musk must be one of the reptile people human alien hybrid, otherwise my life in comparison is an abysmal failure. Slow down Musk, you’re making us ordinary puny humans look bad!



This makes the idea of Uber look at lot less sexy and interesting but if you told me my neighbor would drive me to work in his car for money like a cab a few years ago I would have laughed in your face. It is amazing how many things are changing the rate they are changing and the way that they change.

9. Banking (Seriously Banking)

disruptionThe idea of digital currency is still something I cannot quite get my mind around and I am seeing it every day in the news, Block chain. This idea would have been the ramblings of a science fiction buff years ago, a futuristic world were currency and legal tender were no longer valid and we paid with our galactic universal I.D.

Well tomorrow is today people it’s happening for better or for worse and it will stand things on their ear. In ways that are not even known yet.

10. Bank of England (BOE) and Fintech


Huh? I get a connection request on LinkedIn I see the person works for a company FIN TECH. I’m not a banker and I don’t think much about banking but finacial technology in the age of bid data and a connected world, and bitcoin is becoming increasingly relevant and important to the long term plans of major banks. I come to find out, this person is on the leading of a change, that is considered so fundamental that officials from the bank of England are giving speeches about it.

The idea that a mainstream institution that has been in existence for so many years’ regulating currency and market rates would embrace changes like this is indicative of just how fast and how dramatically things are changing. It is an amazing time we live in.



I am increasingly more and more fascinated with radical change makers and inspirational leaders today. More than ever before things are changing and not incrementally, monumentally and quickly.

Weather all the changes will be for the better will be for our robot overlords to decide I suppose, as they light their robotic cigars, burning this digital money to light them laughing and saying oh those humans are priceless. (Just kidding—I hope!).

I have decided the nuns were entirely wrong – the change makers, and disruptors of the world are really the leaders. They are waving their hands and trying to get people to pay attention to an oncoming virtual tsunami of sweeping radical changes and the change makers will be the ones who are the early adopters of disruptive constructive, radical change.

Written by

Andrew J Walker

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