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The Difference Between a Disruptor and the Disruptive

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word disruptor is a person or thing that prevents something, especially a system, process, or event, from continuing as usual or as expected. In an innovative sense, disruptors are welcomed as people who break the mold and change things for the better; these are the people that think outside of the box and challenge the status quo and imagine the impossible. Our world has been built on the dreams of disruptors, Amelia Earhart, Nelson Mandela, Galileo, John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, and Joan of Arc to name a few. Leaders such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Kathrin Jansen continue to challenge traditional norms, resetting the expectation of normal for man and womankind. While traditional organizations may have bypassed a disruptor out of fear that they would not play by the rules, many companies are now seeking out this type of leader as a person who is bold enough to welcome and create change. The challenge is that sometimes disruptive people sneak in under the guise of a disruptor and there is a difference, a big one. As we continue to move forward in the space of disruption and welcome new ideas with open arms, it is important to notice the distinction between those that seek improvement and those that seek drama, the disruptor vs. the disruptive.

There are some key distinctions between the disruptor and the disruptive: first of all, the disruptor is a visionary in a sense, they see an opportunity for improvement and whether it is ego driven or for a noble cause, their actions tend to impact the good of the greater good. A disruptive does not always see the forest through the trees, in fact they may go from tree to tree just to shake things up. They are invested in their own amusement which is to drive excitement through tension. The disruptive’s greater purpose is to create conflict for the sake of conflict so that they can be the center of attention not so that they can create helpful change. Disruptors shake things up so that they can open people up to change while the disruptive aggravate others and activate them to become defensive; they close people off.

The Disruptor vs. the Disruptive


Has a clear vision or goal

Has an intention and purpose


Adopts a growth mindset: reading, asking questions, and looking outside of their organization to grow and stay relevant

Focuses on activities and lifestyle choices that enhance

Creates order: references relevant artifacts, shares information, and adopts pertinent tools

Seeks to improve what has been done in the past: shows respect and understanding for past decisions


Has a self-serving mission

Has a me, me, me mentality


Adopts a fixed mindset: seeking validation, holding tight to their ideas, and pushing people to agree with them

Focuses on self-sabotaging tendencies such as burning bridges with colleagues, talking about others in a negative way, substance abuse, and late nights

Creates chaos: abrupt, challenging, and unresponsive when needed

Seeks to take things apart without understanding how they came together: a complete disregard for the history of things

The key differentiator between the disruptor and the disruptive is collaboration. The disruptor understands that they need people smarter than themselves to come together with all of their ideas and expertise to contribute to a larger vision. The disruptive believe that they are always the smartest one in the room and act in self-isolating ways, they do not care about the opinions of others because they see themselves as the head of the pack. If people do not respond in favor of the disruptive they will become aggressive and condescending whereas the disruptor would seek to understand divergent opinions. In today’s ever-changing, fast-paced environment, disruption may be the only constant, so it is important to understand the qualities that drive real change vs. those that decrease productivity and distract from future work.

If you are interested in learning more, please connect with us @ The Bond Consulting Group - Leadership and Development Training Pittsburgh

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