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The Disruptor's Mantra: Be the Game

disruptors run-d.m.c. Jun 01, 2023

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

As I’ve been introducing this new Fab 4 framework — creators, builders, sustainers, disruptors – I’m not at all surprised at the level of interest shown for our good friend ‘the Disruptor.’ Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it seems that everybody’s got an opinion on this player.

Some people value them more than gold. Others can’t stand them and run in the other direction when they see them coming. And then others (who are disruptors themselves) feel relieved to finally be seen and understood. Oh, ‘the Disruptor’… how I love thee.


As our company grows, I’ve been thinking about the type of leadership it’s going to take to level up.  What does my team need from me right now? And while we have someone who naturally serves as the disruptor on our team, I also realize that as CEO, I need to be able to wear that hat during critical times. So it’s in these moments that I channel my inner disruptor by finding inspiration from an unlikely source… Run D.M.C.

Listen, as a Black girl in the Midwest I found myself mesmerized by the little bits of hip hop that found their way to my small town. And when I first heard Run D.M.C., I remember feeling connected to something that felt alive and a little out of reach. They became a cultural tether that until then had been missing in my world.  Now, 35 years later, as a business owner, I’m inspired by them all over again.

You see, in the 80’s this iconic hip hop group wore every hat in the Fab 4 line-up. They were creating, building, sustaining and disrupting all at the same time, and changing pop culture along the way. Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, said, “Don’t come to be a part of the game, be the game…”

Now that’s the mentality of a disruptor.

The best example of this was in 1986 when Run D.M.C. collaborated with Aerosmith on Walk This Way.  Back in the day, genre-crossing was unheard of. A hip hop group collaborating with a rock band could have de-legitimized either group. It was risky. But, Run D.M.C. saw the opportunity to stand out and introduce their music to new fans. That one choice—to break the rules and change up the formula—broke open a new market in music that lead to a worldwide pop culture movement. It was from that decision that they defied all the barriers by becoming the first rap group to appear on mainstream radio, MTV and the cover of Rolling Stone. They were also the first in the genre to garner a Grammy nomination, and in 2009, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Here’s the thing: there are times we all need to take a note from the disruptor and walk away from convention. There will be key moments in the cycle of your business where you happen to be the only person in the room who clearly sees a truth or an opportunity that can make or break a team, a project, or maybe even the whole company.

If you’re a builder or sustainer, you might be hesitant to play this role thinking, “I don’t want to be seen as negative.” Or maybe you question your judgment. “Surely those louder, more forceful players would have seen this if it were a real threat.” But sometimes it’s crucial that YOU embrace the swagger of the disruptor. Raise your hand and tell the team what you see.


So here’s my challenge for you today.

If you’re a disruptor, I urge you to lean into your role. Embrace it. But also, I encourage you to learn how to talk about your role so the people you work with know you aren’t a naysayer, you’re simply offering a different voice. And even with that distinct voice you can all still row in the same direction.  The difference is, you’re the one who realizes when there’s a fork in the river. And you’re also the one that speaks up to suggest the lesser known but potentially more rewarding course.

Who knows… that one decision might change everything.


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