Disruptive by Definition

Despite the logo on my paycheck and the location of my desk, you can make a pretty compelling case that I don’t really work for Southern Growth Studio. I spend the huge majority of my time on three long-form design thinking projects.

Two of them are new product/service pilot programs I can’t really talk about for NDA and lawyer-inspired reasons. The third is with Church Health where I serve as the President of a partner ministry called ECHO.

With each of these three projects, I’m an outside but embedded resource, rather than a formal staff member.

Surprisingly, being an outside resource lets me focus more on disruptive innovation for our clients than if I officially worked for them. Here’s why:

Orthodoxy Immunity
Every organization has certain characteristics, beliefs, and cultural norms. In general, these are most often positive or marginal. People with Orthodoxy Immunity, however, can always identify the ones that are problems. They’re usually presented as:

“The way ORGANIZATION X has always done things”
“We can’t because of SYSTEM OR PROCESS Y”
“If we could just do THIS, it would be able to accomplish THAT.”

As an outsider with inside access, I don’t have to adhere to established orthodoxies. I couldn’t if I wanted to. I haven’t read the handbook, I’ve only been to a few all-staff meetings, my performance reviews are conducted somewhere else.

It’s a luxury in my position and valuable for the client.

Diverse Experience
I don’t focus on the same task for the same organization every day. In my career, first in advertising and now at the Studio, I’ve worked for a variety of clients in every industry imaginable on every challenge an organization might face.

While it’s important for the embedded innovator to recognize their shortcomings in category knowledge and institutional experience – and actively learn from the people who have it – the insight generated by engaging a variety of challenges in wildly different contexts is often illuminating and applicable to a client’s challenge.

Natural Boundaries
I owe it to Church Health to precede this thought by saying that, on the spectrum of large organizations, they are really good about avoiding this issue. Some clients, particularly large corporations, are not.

Because I’m an outside resource, I don’t get pulled into too many meetings. My day working on an innovation problem isn’t interrupted by another organizational issue I might help solve.

In fact, I’m innovative and disruptive at Church Health just by showing up. On the days I work out of their offices, people recognize me as the “ECHO guy.” If only for a moment, it means they’re thinking about how ECHO can contribute to their department or vice versa. Part of it is Church Health’s wonderful culture that defaults to improvement and progress, but we are able to innovate regularly because my presence is a novelty.

There’s a long list of examples of organizations that have wholly contained innovation departments that are successful. Ultimately, the Studio aims to help our innovation clients build their own department and outgrow our services.

The time between, however, can be really valuable to the process if you can recognize the opportunities presented by innovating from the outside in.


If your goal is to do disruptive innovation within your organization, it’s really hard to do that from the inside. Even if it’s just a small step — coffee with an off-site advisor, a one-day workshop — the change in perspective can make all the difference. If you want to take that first step with Southern Growth Studio, click the link below to get in touch.