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How To Practice Disruption

We Need Women STEM-mers

Being a woman in the Information Technology industry and now in tech writing, I’ve had to fight for opportunities and recognition every step of the way. Men with less experience, fewer skills and more basic (if any) degrees would get promoted or given better jobs over me. Any woman who has been in a tech job feels the same pain.

This country will have millions of jobs that will go unfilled in the next decade unless more women enroll in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) majors. For this to happen, we need a broad change in our thinking. If we Americans want to keep ahead of the innovation game and continue on as a leading economic force, we must each do our part to address the cultural prejudices that keep women from entering STEM careers.

fancy small bowl spilled out paint/ink on an industrial surfaceHidden in Plain View

Most people don’t give cultural prejudices a second thought; it’s difficult to notice endemic norms, and disruptions in one’s expectations are uncomfortable to endure. We must be willing to feel a bit of that discomfort until we get used to the idea that the talent stores in our female population will pick up the slack.

In this brave(ish), new(ish) world of the 21st century, disruption is a practice we should be implementing daily. Creativity and innovation are stimulated by a need left unfulfilled by the status quo, but you must practice disruption as a routine in order to be skilled at identifying those opportunities for growth.

Incorporate disruption in your daily life. Once you get used to asking questions of the status quo, then you will be primed to accept the creative solutions that seem to spontaneously generate from the asking.

How to Practice Disruption in 5 Easy Steps (great for kids too!)

Exercise your disruption muscle and train your brain to notice cultural assumptions at work in your life by implementing the following tiny changes in your daily routine:

  1. Ask yourself a small “Why” question each day. e.g., Why do I drink this brand of coffee? Why do I always park here? (Answers can be quick & dirty. The point is to ask the question of something that seems totally normal and insignificant.)
  2. Once you’ve spent a few days or weeks doing #1, Integrate a follow-up “What if” question. e.g., What if I switched to the expensive brand of coffee? What if I parked across the lot? (Answers can vary from the elusive “I don’t know” to ideas involving aliens).
  3. Implement one of the What If ideas from #3. e.g., change coffee brands for a week or two. Park farther away from the office’s front door.
  4. Ask others a “Why” question each day. e.g. Did you ever wonder why we have team meetings on Friday and not Monday mornings? Why did you buy that color corvette?
  5. Move on to bigger premises. Ask a “Why” of increasingly bigger societal norms. e.g., Why don’t most men wear their hair in those long ponytails like in olden days? What ever happened to robes and kilts? (Have fun with this)


  • Beware of the knee-jerk “I don’t know” reaction. “I don’t know” will always be the 1st response your brain pumps out. e.g., Why do I use this coffee mug? I don’t know! It’s OK. After a few weeks of asking Whys, your brain should get better at looking past that required primary flight response.
  • Practice Disruption in the morning or whenever you rise from sleeping. Our patience (and therefore feelings of safety and control) wear out by day’s end.
  • Others will resist. Keep pushing forward. Here’s a paragraph from Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly:

“When I talk about cynicism, I don’t mean healthy skepticism and questioning. I’m talking about the reflexive cynicism that leads to mindless responses like ‘That’s so stupid.’ or ‘What a loser idea.’ Cool is one of the most rampant forms of cynicism. Whatever. Totally Lame. So uncool. Who gives a shit? Among some folks it’s almost as if enthusiasm and engagement have become a sign of gullibility. Being too excited or invested makes you lame. A word we’ve banned in our house along with loser and stupid.”

Keep On Rollin’

Once a person becomes accustomed to disruption, the typical fight/flight response to it doesn’t overtake the brain. Learning and innovating are easier if we don’t feel “put on the spot”, “taken aback” or in any way uncomfortable. Get used to the Why, and you’ll see significant improvements in the “How” solutions you generate for any problem, including the sexism that holds this country back.


Photo Credit: Josh Parrish on Flickr

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike_S_Htown 1 July 2013, 12:01 pm

    No worries, change is coming! The shoe is about to be on the other foot…

    But, the STEM problem is gender-agnostic. We need more STEM people, period — or we are screwed. China and India are only too happy to send over STEM-trained people to fill our skilled positions — while our own prospective job candidates take on 100K in student loan debt to graduate w/ a degree in a field that isn’t hiring.

    • PurpleCar 1 July 2013, 12:44 pm

      Great point. But I’d hate to see women get pushed out again. We were at 40% of CS degrees and even more than that %age in the tech industry in the 80’s. What happened? Too much sexism, too many men.

      • Mike_S_Htown 1 July 2013, 1:02 pm

        I’m not sure what happened — it is very troubling. I was an undergrad during the great rise (if you want to call a 37.1% high water mark a positive milestone) and finishing grad school when it started to fall. Sadly, only a small percentage of my fellow computer scientist graduates were women. I’d be shocked to find that it was higher than 25% (but I don’t know) for undergrad, and I know it was *a lot* less than 25% for grad.


  • amayfield 26 September 2013, 11:07 am

    Great post – really useful advice. Thank you!

    • PurpleCar 26 September 2013, 11:29 am

      Thanks! Let me know if you see any other articles like this or if you practice disruption in other ways. I’d love to know.