By Jolinda Pullen

Introduction: What does “being a disruptor” mean to you? In the work we do, a disruptor is someone who breaks patterns of behavior or action that just keeps going because that’s what everyone is used to. It’s the person who isn’t afraid to ask “why” or “what if”. A disruptor is like sandpaper that agitates just enough to turn the ordinary into a beautiful and highly valued gemstone. It’s a person who makes things just uncomfortable enough that something HAS TO HAPPEN. Our consultant, Jolinda, considers herself a lifelong disruptor. Here, she shares many of the lessons she’s learned along her journey.

For more than two decades, I’ve been an example of disruptive innovation both inside and outside of thousands of organizations all over the world. With experience spanning communications, media relations, event management, leadership development, and people & culture, my journey is a testament to the power of adaptability and visionary thinking, especially from behind the curtain.

I’m not sure if it stems from my neurodivergence or growing up as the youngest of five children (enter my Jo March era). Maybe it was that teacher in third grade who allowed me to engage in an improv debate with her about why we should conduct class outdoors; and let me win, patting my back as we led the line of students out to the grassy field together. Or the fact that I earned an allowance by passing homemade reading comprehension and vocabulary quizzes on the latest issue of Reader’s Digest. Maybe it was the three different times I’ve been laid off from jobs I loved. Or because I’m constantly putting myself in conference rooms where I’m the only woman, the least smart, or the youngest person (that last one is getting more challenging these days). Maybe it’s my Aries sun, Gemini moon, or Leo rising. Likely it’s a combination of all these things.

One thing I do know is it took me a long time to embrace my disruptor identity, and I have a feeling there may be other silent disruptors among us. Purdue University recently published an article discussing the seven traits of a disruptor. Let’s dive in and see if maybe you’re a disruptor too.

Entrepreneurial Mindset
The earliest entrepreneurial venture I can remember was at 7 years old when I took birthday cash to buy a bulk box of Skittles from Price Club (IYKYK). I brought the box to school the next day, and sold bags for a few cents less than the vending machine, and doubled my cash by the end of recess. A handful of decades later, I’m eternally grateful for multiple streams of income from 3 thriving companies and an independent consultancy practice where I get to bring innovative solutions to organizations across the globe. The purpose behind my mindset has changed over the years. As a young child, and even into adulthood, my purpose was the hustle, my prize cash money (cringe, but true). Then, it shifted to impact, later evolving to presence—specifically creating space to be present in my parenthood. These days I realize my journey isn’t all that abnormal, growing up in the world alongside tech innovation and the internet somewhat normalizes challenging the norms.

Do you have an early entrepreneurial memory? Or a catalyst to your entrepreneurial trailblazing journey?     

Risk Taking
An all-time favorite mantra is, “You got to risk it if you want a biscuit.” And, who doesn’t love biscuits? The risk-reward-reflection is something that was instilled extremely early for me—with a line down the middle of a yellow legal pad (one side labeled pros, and one cons). Looking back, there was almost always a somatic experience that told me to go for it with the big wins—often long before I put a pen to paper. Geena Davis—or Dottie or Thelma—said it best, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.”

If the vision spectrum spans from plant medicine-induced journeys deep in the jungle, to entertaining global developers and listening to them discuss investing and growing communities around the world, I’m somewhere in the middle—always been a dreamer, seen a bigger picture, and introduced new perspectives. This made me feel like an outcast for most of my life, especially in traditional school and workplace settings. The dark side of disruption is that it can be isolating. My brain is wired differently than most people. Thankfully, I grew up in a home where that was not only accepted, but celebrated, and even encouraged.

If you know someone who is neurodivergent, this is your sign to give them space to be who they are. And to the people out there with big ideas—like packing up your family of 4 and moving from Arizona to Portugal, during a global pandemic, in pursuit of dual citizenship, a deeper sense of freedom, and the opportunity to raise global citizens—your brains will transform this world. It’s already happening!  

The Purdue article shares: “Agility is the ability to move fast, to pivot and react quickly to whatever change is happening, and to learn quickly as you go.”

I’m no speed racer, but I am completely comfortable jumping in the driver’s seat and doing things I have no idea how to do.

Agility can come with either speed or learning as you go—or both, for the lucky ones! With a fresh college degree under my belt, for a good part of 3-5 years at the start of my career, my first step on any assignment was to GTS – Google That Sh*t. Truth bomb: I still do that. The main difference now is I have decades of experience to draw from before seeking additional input from the never-ending abyss of content on the interwebs.

How do you stay agile in the workplace?

My family in Boise, Idaho recently opened their fifth restaurant named Percy, short for perseverance. Restaurateurs are the epitome of perseverance. On top of the sheer grit required to show up every day and make the magic happen, patrons in restaurants can often mirror the energy of angry toddlers, with a more extensive vocabulary. It’s awe-inspiring to watch these restauranteurs persevere. Especially since they started 6 years ago, with a dream, were new to Boise, survived the pandemic (unlike 100k+ of their peers), and are still growing and thriving. If that’s not perseverance, I don’t know what is.

Creative expression is one of the many perks of the human experience. It’s not only important for humanity, but also necessary for innovation. Just imagine a world where someone didn’t stop to think about a new way to get from point A to point B, or a quicker way to share a message with a loved one who lives far away, or a digital marketplace with anything you could ever need and the ability to have it delivered to your doorstep within hours. Everyone enjoys creativity – it’s fun!

Last year I partnered on a project with a client who wanted their leadership team to be more engaged in the hiring process—specifically interviewing. We connected with leadership, heard about their hurdles, and then designed an intuitive process and tools for them to use—making it a “more fun” and lighter load for the hiring team. We all know there are parts of business operations that can seem dull and lackluster, maybe even riddled with compliance (like interviewing candidates, per se). My disruptor path allows me to channel creativity to brighten up those parts of business – “Let’s make it fun!” is something teams often hear me say. 

Diving deep into the intricate threads that connect various domains, one may think it requires a deep understanding of industries and organizations. And, I’m here to offer a different opinion on that. (I had to challenge at least one point from the Purdue gurus!). The secret sauce, for my flavor of disruption, is understanding your audience. If you can get behind the wheel of your customer experience and really understand what their needs are, what their reality is like, and how they are impacted by the work you do—that customer can be anyone—internal, external, family, neighbor—if they feel understood, you’ve won. Because, like the great Maya Angelou always said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A clear example of how I applied this in the business world stems back to my time at American City Business Journals – running special projects and events. I volunteered my way into that role (another story for another time) and when I finally got to be in the controller chair, I remembered what it felt like to be on the outside. I remembered how it felt to use all my spending money on a ticket to their fancy Best Places to Work luncheon so I could network with leading employers. And I knew making a profit from the events was important to the business, and now my responsibility. I needed to create a different approach and ended up creating unique sponsorship opportunities to help offset event expenses, making tickets more accessibly priced. After running the reports, we realized that we not only expanded our audience numbers, but we also boosted program revenue by 500% and went on to roll that system out to 43 other major markets across North America; a system they are still using today, more than a decade later. All this stemmed from understanding the customer experience. 

To the future torchbearers of disruption, I offer this nugget of wisdom: it all boils down to bravery, creativity, respect, and fun! Above all else, know your audience. Be aware that your unwavering commitment to breaking barriers and pioneering change across multiple facets may set you apart as a trailblazer. Do it anyway! 

I hope this glimpse into one not-so-millennial’s self-proclaimed disruptor journey illustrates a genuine desire to reimagine traditional methodologies and introduce transformative ideas. 

If you feel you or your organization could benefit from a bit of disruption (or visionary thinking), let’s talk. Contact us for a no-obligation, free consultation by clicking this link: Innovative Connections or calling us at 970-279-3330.

Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.