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Strategic Mindset of Disrupters

By Jennifer Havens

This week, CNBC announced the 2023 Disrupter 50 Companies. These are private companies gaining advantage and experiencing high value growth in an incredibly challenging market. As noted by CNBC staff, themes include a primary business model centered on social and environmental impact and greater diversity in leadership.

These groundbreaking firms are thriving in a tough market by prioritizing social and environmental impact, and embracing diverse leadership.

Drilling down to the mindset of founders, leaders, and followers within these companies, strategic thinking and taking risks are two of many factors leading to their impact. For us, strategic thinking is a broad category that encompasses a variety of related competencies that help an organizational leader decide on the path to accomplish team and organizational goals based on the people and resources available. Taking risks is one of those competencies that could straddle between creativity and innovation competencies as well as strategic thinking competencies. That is exactly what these leaders are doing – they are making decisions and taking risks that are making waves in their industries.

Engaging in dialogue with them would be incredibly fascinating, which would likely reveal common themes in their thought processes related to strategy and risk. Here are a few of many aspects of a disrupter’s mindset.

Relentless focus on the core mission

Today’s disruptors are not swayed to abandon what grounds them. They see the impact of their core mission and take risks and make decisions based on this core.

Bring together the unlikely dream team To achieve big ideas with important impact, founders, leaders, and followers see through traditional gauges of brilliance or think in new ways about the make-up of a dream team. They rely on chemistry of the team, unique skillsets, creating puzzle pieces vs many of the same single picture.

Rubik’s Cube analysis

Disruptors make decisions quickly, not hastily. They move around components of decisions and risks, like working through a Rubik’s Cube. They also see the cube patterns as opportunities. Who says a win is all the same colors on one spectrum?

Long term impact matters most

Disruptors will sacrifice short term gain for long term impact. Number one on the list is OpenAI. CEO Sam Altman advises, “think with a very long-time horizon, act with great short-term urgency and effectiveness, success guaranteed” (

Unrelenting tenacity to block barriers, distractions, and contrarians Pivot Bio is number 12 on the list. They will disrupt a $180 billion synthetic fertilizer industry, with deep roots in political influence. Artic Wolf, number 22 on the list, is a powerhouse of cybersecurity brilliance. The company has the ability to serve in many directions yet manages distractions to focus on centralizing operations for companies.

While these companies are making big changes in their fields, a disruptor mindset within individual companies or communities can be just as important, even if you don’t want to change entire marketplaces.

Next First Steps How can you incorporate these strategic mindsets in your leadership and followership?

  1. Review and revise your organization's mission. What purpose drives you and what strategic priorities align?

  2. Speak up. Unrelenting tenacity can be shown by giving your ideas and perspectives a voice. Determine who influences action and bring them your ideas.

  3. Embrace urgency in decisions. Sometimes, we want to double check the numbers, our assumptions, seeking more validity than necessary. What decisions are suffering from too much analysis?

  4. Implement two way door ideas. Amazon trains new leaders to consider whether a decision is a one way door or a two way door. Implement ideas you want to test in a two way door mechanism.

  5. Listen for and look for the diamonds-the brilliant talent in another team or someone you would not normally think of relative to a strategy you want to implement. The synergy of different and brilliant perspectives coming together can spark the disruption needed to achieve your mission and strategy.

We would love to hear from you! Let us know what is most helpful. And, what you implement in your leadership and followership.

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