Doers, mediators and disruptors

network by Arenamontanus

On self determination
[Via Seth’s Blog]

I posted this eight years ago (!) but a reader asked for an encore.

…are we stuck in High School?

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their interest in marketing and exceptional promise (that’s what I was told… I think they came because they had heard that Maury Rubin would make a great lunch!).

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman professed to agree with me, but then explained, “But those companies don’t interview on campus.”

Those companies don’t interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent $100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an MBA, but…


I’ll discuss this in greater detail later but I wanted to discuss a little why the young woman replied the way she did.

We have a probably seen this figure graphing the number of people that adopt a new workflow or innovation as a function of time:


A small number of people chose the innovation rapidly, while the majority takes much longer. Part of the problem Seth describes arises because, that in my experience, many of the people in MBA schools have come from the middle of the figure, while someone like Seth comes from the earlier segments.

It turns out that people in each of these segments often exhibit a defined pattern of behavior.

The majority in the middle (67% of the total) are doers. They are the ones who get things done. They follow a workflow that generates positive results and see it to the end. They are process-driven and the backbone of any successful venture. If things do not get done, if details are not taken care of, then failure usually results.

Doers are justifiably resistant to change. Change can slow down the workflow. It can introduce a process that has not been proven to produce positive results. They hate anything that does not have a defined metric for success.They want proof it will work before changing. That is why they are in the middle.

The small percentage of innovators are disruptors, bringing change to the rest of the community. They are always finding new things that work, often after experimenting with many that do not. And they are always telling the doers that they are doing things wrong, that there are better ways to accomplish a task and generally disrupting the workflows of the doers.

These two groups are absolutely necessary for a successful organization. But they are often in opposition, with the disruptors upset that no one will do anything they say and the doers upset with the disruption that comes from change.

The critical people in a community, and the ones that actually are often in very short supply, are the so-called early adopters. They happen do be unique people who can listen to the ideas of the disruptors and translate them into processes that the doers can accept. These mediators are often well trusted by both communities because of their abilities to let just enough vital change through to the community to allow things to get done better while slowing down those things that would disrupt successful operations.

So, a doer with an MBA is going to follow procedures that have worked well in the past – campus interviews. Being focussed on current processes, it is not likely that she would have been able to accomplish novel approaches on her own. And, if somehow she met a CEO of a small company at a party, she would most likely not have been attracted to his proposal to come work for him.

But an excellent mediator, such as Seth, will explain to her how to use some of the ideas he has seen work well – small company, make mistakes. Now, it is much more likely that given the opportunity to work at a small company, she will actually consider it.

The manner by which change traverses a community seems to follow a very common framework. In many cases, the reason useful change does not get used by a community is that the ideas of the disruptors can not get to the doers. Because there are often not enough mediators.

One of the great innovations of online technologies is that they leverage the reach of a small number of mediators, allowing them to have a much greater effect than in an Industrial world. Thus a community without enough mediators to be successful 50 years ago can, by properly using Web 2.0 techniques, make those mediators much more influential. This will enhance the rate that innovations traverses the company.