Write outside the lines

A little girl sat in class practising the letter “a.” After a while, she decided she’d mastered that, and moved on to writing them in patterns, instead of a straight line. This was more challenging, and much more fun. Her friend complimented her, so she began to show her how to do it too.

That little girl was me – at five years old. I will never forget the anger and disgust in Mrs Burnett’s voice as she leaned over my shoulder and said “What do you think you’re doing? Rub that out now and don’t distract the others from their work! Now do it again, properly – like I showed you.”

Well – what I thought was “pretty and interesting” was apparently “wrong and distracting.” I was in trouble for being disruptive.

I love how language reflects the zeitgeist of the time. Here we are now – a new era (or a new error?) – where disruptive is a good thing. Since Clayton M. Christensen defined the term in 1995, disruptive has become cool, innovative, shows initiative; disruptive is where it’s at. We don’t think of the word in the context of the school room where “disruptive behaviour” is a bad thing. And it does make me wonder, how many “disruptive” kids are simply children who have already mastered the lesson and want to do something creative with it?

Something we often forget when we look at the lateral thinkers, the innovators and the disruptors is that in order to write outside the lines, you need to know where the lines are. There is a level of mastery required to think outside the box – you need to understand what the box is. Uber, airbnb, Yoobi – all need to understand the market and processes of satisfying their customers in order to disrupt those very processes.

If someone working with you is doing something wrong – take a minute before you haul them over the coals. Are they doing it wrong? Or are they just writing outside the lines?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top