.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That was advice I heard time and again growing up. Today, the world has adopted a markedly different mantra: “Disrupt or be disrupted.” Radical innovation is the goal—and technology, more often than not, is the tool. Faced with a problem? Just break it down into ones and zeroes and spit out an app that can solve it with a couple of clicks and the input of a credit card number.

Digital disruption has brought loads of conveniences—no more trips to the video store or calls to airline booking agents—but it’s hardly a panacea. E-retail fuels labor abuses. Musicians lose income to streaming, and we’ve all seen the impact of digital content on local newspapers. Nor has disruption proved entirely sustainable, as the pioneers of online streaming services are discovering now that traditional broadcast companies have figured out how to compete.

In 2022, we can name tech magnates almost as easily as we cite our biggest sports stars. From college dropouts who transformed interpersonal communication to women who broke the glass ceiling and then fell to Earth, we make them heroes and villains and follow their stories as if they were folk heroes. But what if we took disruptors’ relentless pursuit of innovation and harnessed it for something other than profits alone? What if business leaders looked beyond their respective companies and industries to bring new energy to bettering the broader society? I am proud to see my employer, Philip Morris International (PMI), as a company that has chosen to disrupt its industry and be a catalyst driving long-overdue change in the nicotine space. The technology to deliver better alternatives to those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke is available, and the need for positive change in the tobacco industry is clear. (For those not caught up, PMI is working to replace cigarettes as quickly as possible with these better alternatives.) Numerous other businesses are disrupting for better as well, but we would all accomplish more—and faster—if we could create an operating context that prioritizes equity and long-term sustainability.

How can we advance a framework for more responsible disruption? Whether one’s launching a startup or reimagining a legacy corporation, I propose several principles to keep top of mind:

• First and foremost, intentionality. No more disruption for disruption’s sake. We need clear objectives, metrics, and rationales. And we need to ensure audience buy-in before undertaking colossal investments.

• Second, mindfulness. I know that’s a hugely overused buzzword, but I genuinely believe more people are attuned to inequities and racial and economic injustices in 2022. We must understand and weigh the potential ripple effects of disruption early in the planning process.

• Going a step further: social consciousness. We need to pinpoint areas in which safeguarding the interests of stakeholders and benefiting the wider society are not mutually exclusive. That’s a Venn diagram with a huge area of overlap.

• Disruption must also be evidence-based. Blue sky thinking is a valuable starting point for creativity, but it needs to be channeled through solid data points and scientific and empirical evidence before it can produce a viable long-term strategy.

• Lastly, we need to prioritize genuine innovation. Iteration served us well during much of the 20th century, but we need to embrace previously unthinkable possibilities. That can be scary—and expensive—but if it’s done mindfully and with clear intentions, the payoff will be worth the investment.

Our world is a mess, and the logjams that impede progress will not be dislodged by any one entity, whether government, corporation, or activist group. We need to figure out how to advance common goals. In this country and several others, I think a starting point needs to be collaborative efforts to ease polarization. How can we ensure social media algorithms do not create digital echo chambers that further polarize an already fractured public and foment distrust and conflict? What can corporations and other organizations do to bring disparate voices together and reconnect people to shared priorities and civic goals? How can we expand decision-making tables to ensure it’s not just the privileged few who have a voice?

Leaders in business, media, and government have an important role to play in enabling progress through collaboration and dialogue. The public demands more. The workforce demands more. Let’s figure out how to deliver.

About the author: Marian Salzman heads global communications at PMI, where she is helping the company to fulfill its mission of delivering a smoke-free future. A globally recognized trendspotter and among the most-awarded communications executives, she has been at the leading edge of the rapid revolution in technology and social change throughout her career.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Leveraging Disruption for Social Good

Photo by Skye Studios via Unsplash.

July 29, 2022

In this disruptive age, the public demand more from their leaders. Disruption can be harnessed to enable social good. PMI’s Marian Salzman proposes several principles to advance a framework, which can enable progress through collaboration and dialogue.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That was advice I heard time and again growing up. Today, the world has adopted a markedly different mantra: “Disrupt or be disrupted.” Radical innovation is the goal—and technology, more often than not, is the tool. Faced with a problem? Just break it down into ones and zeroes and spit out an app that can solve it with a couple of clicks and the input of a credit card number.

Digital disruption has brought loads of conveniences—no more trips to the video store or calls to airline booking agents—but it’s hardly a panacea. E-retail fuels labor abuses. Musicians lose income to streaming, and we’ve all seen the impact of digital content on local newspapers. Nor has disruption proved entirely sustainable, as the pioneers of online streaming services are discovering now that traditional broadcast companies have figured out how to compete.

In 2022, we can name tech magnates almost as easily as we cite our biggest sports stars. From college dropouts who transformed interpersonal communication to women who broke the glass ceiling and then fell to Earth, we make them heroes and villains and follow their stories as if they were folk heroes. But what if we took disruptors’ relentless pursuit of innovation and harnessed it for something other than profits alone? What if business leaders looked beyond their respective companies and industries to bring new energy to bettering the broader society? I am proud to see my employer, Philip Morris International (PMI), as a company that has chosen to disrupt its industry and be a catalyst driving long-overdue change in the nicotine space. The technology to deliver better alternatives to those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke is available, and the need for positive change in the tobacco industry is clear. (For those not caught up, PMI is working to replace cigarettes as quickly as possible with these better alternatives.) Numerous other businesses are disrupting for better as well, but we would all accomplish more—and faster—if we could create an operating context that prioritizes equity and long-term sustainability.

How can we advance a framework for more responsible disruption? Whether one’s launching a startup or reimagining a legacy corporation, I propose several principles to keep top of mind:

• First and foremost, intentionality. No more disruption for disruption’s sake. We need clear objectives, metrics, and rationales. And we need to ensure audience buy-in before undertaking colossal investments.

• Second, mindfulness. I know that’s a hugely overused buzzword, but I genuinely believe more people are attuned to inequities and racial and economic injustices in 2022. We must understand and weigh the potential ripple effects of disruption early in the planning process.

• Going a step further: social consciousness. We need to pinpoint areas in which safeguarding the interests of stakeholders and benefiting the wider society are not mutually exclusive. That’s a Venn diagram with a huge area of overlap.

• Disruption must also be evidence-based. Blue sky thinking is a valuable starting point for creativity, but it needs to be channeled through solid data points and scientific and empirical evidence before it can produce a viable long-term strategy.

• Lastly, we need to prioritize genuine innovation. Iteration served us well during much of the 20th century, but we need to embrace previously unthinkable possibilities. That can be scary—and expensive—but if it’s done mindfully and with clear intentions, the payoff will be worth the investment.

Our world is a mess, and the logjams that impede progress will not be dislodged by any one entity, whether government, corporation, or activist group. We need to figure out how to advance common goals. In this country and several others, I think a starting point needs to be collaborative efforts to ease polarization. How can we ensure social media algorithms do not create digital echo chambers that further polarize an already fractured public and foment distrust and conflict? What can corporations and other organizations do to bring disparate voices together and reconnect people to shared priorities and civic goals? How can we expand decision-making tables to ensure it’s not just the privileged few who have a voice?

Leaders in business, media, and government have an important role to play in enabling progress through collaboration and dialogue. The public demands more. The workforce demands more. Let’s figure out how to deliver.

About the author: Marian Salzman heads global communications at PMI, where she is helping the company to fulfill its mission of delivering a smoke-free future. A globally recognized trendspotter and among the most-awarded communications executives, she has been at the leading edge of the rapid revolution in technology and social change throughout her career.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.