The current buzzword in political circles is disruption.

It’s a term that’s already jumped the shark in the business and technology sectors.  For several years, almost every hip product or new concept has been proudly marketed under the “disruptive” banner.

Now, a number of candidates are making disruption a rallying cry for progressive change.  While it’s wonderful that a growing number of Americans are awakening to the need for new thinking, I have a question for those rushing down the road to disruption:

Is it really a good idea?

“Of course it is!” shout the newly emboldened hopefuls and their flock. “Disrupting our current system is the only way forward!”

That may be true in business and technology, but let me outline some of the problems I see with using the words “disruption” and “government” in the same sentence:

For starters, disruption is temporary. It exists in a state of constant change.  If it settles, it’s no longer disruption. Government needs to last. Lasting change is not a quick fix that can be addressed by a handful of newcomers with big ideas. Changing a major system like a government isn’t about the conception, it’s about the execution. The necessary first step in changing our system in any meaningful way is a complete attitude shift by a majority of those being governed.

It’s a shift that cuts right to the very core of American culture. Is that possible? To find an answer, compare disruptor culture to government culture:

  • Disruptors are fearless. Government is risk-averse.
  • Disruptors embrace non-linear thought processes. Government relies on prescribed methodologies that follow mandated protocols.
  • Disruptors have no boundaries. Government has limits.
  • Disruptors are multi-generational and multicultural. American government is mostly old white guys.
  • Disruptors explore the gaps between logical thoughts to fulfill unexpected possibilities, regardless of what the data says. Government follows prescribed routes to achieve expected results, defined almost entirely by what the data says.

Disruption arises from an underlying sensibility that’s equal parts intellectual and emotional. That sensibility then drives everything that follows and ultimately manifests itself in the form of new ideas. In other words, if American government really wants to embrace disruption, it has to start by becoming disruptive in and of itself. And it’s not likely to do that.

Sure, there will be window dressing and lip service. But disruption is not just about electing a passionate speaker and redesigning a party’s image to appear more progressive. Those are superficial constructs and they don’t make any entity suddenly transform into a disruptor.

The only way it’s possible to achieve true disruption is to start by changing the core culture of the nation. Most elected officials are predisposed to resist that, because freedom and creativity and the real possibility of multiple failures are scary things.  These are people who like the safety of following a linear path that’s defined by data.

And even if a few brave folks start making noises, can they get the rest of the world to follow? I’m willing to bet that deep down, America’s progressive leaders realize that for all their desire to disrupt, they’re actually not capable of executing it well.

Don’t misunderstand my point. I’m all for positive change. I’m simply saying that if you’re gonna “disrupt” something, first make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Is your goal to disrupt just for disruption’s sake, because it’s what a few key demographics are buzzing about? Or should the higher purpose be to serve in a way that best meets the real needs of the American people – even if that means something incremental and familiar?