Two months of crazy for one night of awesome (the benefits of getting “involved”)

Last night, we held the first DisruptHR event in Denver, CO.

I had attended the very first DisruptHR in Cincinnati, OH because Jennifer McClure and Steve Browne said I should.  Chris Ostoich, founder of BlackbookHR, corralled Jennifer and Steve to help him organize the event because they all believe that HR needs to move itself forward in its thinking and its approach.

Hell yeah.

When I got back to Colorado, I said, “We need this here.”  So I reached out to Shawna Simcik and Meredith Masse at Innovative Career Consulting, and we were off to the races.  They were all in – because they agreed that it’s time we start thinking about talent and processes in a whole new way.

After a lot of meetings, emails, cat-herding and coffee, we did it.  We looked at our creation.  And it was good.

I’m writing about this not because I think you need to know about DisruptHR (which you do) or should check out BlackbookHR and Innovative Career Consulting (which you should).  I’m writing about it because this was a true step forward in my personal development.  I’m not a traditional people person. I’m not the one who thinks conferences are super amazing.  I’m usually the Idea Rat with this type of stuff – thinking “somebody really should do a conference”.


I decided to get involved because I think this idea is important, dammit.  We need to get out there and challenge our leaders and our HR brethren to be forward thinking.  And since I’m a bit of a control freak, I decided to get involved by being a co-organizer, which meant getting out of the shadows (deep down, I might be a “puppet master”) and being front and center.

If you are toying with the idea “getting involved”, here are some things I learned and gained because of the experience. This way you can make an informed decision.

Lessons learned:

  • Focus your intent: Whatever the “event” might be (a conference, a meeting, a task force, a book club), make sure you know exactly what it stands for and what your goals are.  We went in knowing that we wanted to start to change people’s minds about HR.  We also know we wanted our sponsors to have access to like-minded folks and to build networks.  So we shaped the event (from marketing, to registration, to tone) with those outcomes in mind.
  • Find the right partners: I would NEVER have been able to pull this off without the right people to help me.  I sensed that Meredith and ICC had a similar “disruptive” approach to HR and talent, which is why I approached them to be a sponsor/co-organizer.  And they ran with it.  Their enthusiasm, support, and tenacity to make this work…just invaluable. And we all brought different skills to the table, which meant the event would be well-rounded and appeal to more than just one person.
  • Get AMAZING speakers: If you are planning a speaking event, you need speakers.  And boy did we have them.  They were enthusiastic, brave, knowledgable, funny, talented…seriously.  They were off the hook.  Thank you to – Kathleen Brenk, Daniel Horsey, Matt Rowe, Brian Fretwell, Melissa Case, Kristin Van Horn, Sean Shepard, Tanja Hinterstoisser, Ph.D., Jo McGuire, Damian J Guerin, CCP, SPHR, and Shawna Simcik.  Find these people.  Connect with these people.
  • Book an awesome venue: If you are planning a networking event with speakers, the venue needs to work! Think about the acoustics, the space, the flow, the seating, the parking…everything.  Equally important is a venue that understands what you’re trying to accomplish and will work with you to convey the right tone.  We had Casselman’s – and they were great to work with.  They suggested a mix of seating and setup that encouraged the networking we were looking for.  And they made sure our speakers could be heard.  Big win.
  • Choose the right topics: You’ve heard “content is king.”  The topics you choose for your event need to serve the intent of the event, as well as be entertaining and thought-provoking.  We worked closely with our potential speakers to find topics that would advance the thinking of HR and get people thinking about their processes in a new way.  Okay…actually, our speakers came up with them.  But we picked ’em.  So there.

Unexpected bonuses:

  • New friends and connections: The DisruptHR group has bonded.  We have been through some serious shit and came out the other side with a new group of friends.  The speakers are connecting left and right, we may have encouraged a couple to join Twitter (I’m looking at you, Jo!), and we have all gained new resources to help us think of new ideas and approaches.  It’s hard to make new meaningful connections.  We did it.
  • Chance to shift mindset: Seriously – how often can you say you have a chance to start a thought revolution?  The whole event aligns with my “brand” as a forward-thinker who likes to shake people out of their day-to-day…and I think we won a few converts.  I want to keep this going.
  • Sense of accomplishment: This whole event was SO outside of my comfort zone – between the planning, the networking, the “group work” (people who know me know that challenge), the marketing, the hosting, the speaking – there were a lot of firsts for me.  I was EXHAUSTED when it was over…and I was incredibly proud at not just what WE did, but what I did.  Challenges are good, so I am going to continue challenging myself and others.

This post may not seem like it’s about traditional leadership.  There isn’t anything about feedback, or dignity, or engagement, or anything like that.  It’s about continually pushing yourself and others to try something new, do something scary, and find a level of success that wasn’t guaranteed or possibly believed.

Huh.  Maybe it was about leadership.  How ’bout that.


Quick note:  Shout out to Stephanie Sigler – the first boss I had who really challenged me to be a leader and stop being a brat.  🙂 Thanks for being there last night!

A little disruption is good for the soul

In Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle In Time, she shares the story of the Murry family – specifically Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their quest to find their missing scientist father.  I won’t recount the entire plot here (if you need a summary, here it is.  Seriously, just go read the book!), but there are two important things I want to point out – Meg struggles to fit in, and Meg is challenged to save her brother from the powerful IT…whose one power is the ability to make EVERYONE fit in.

In the story, Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace travel to the planet Camazotz, a picture of conformity:

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns.  The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray….In front of all the houses children were playing….As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball.  As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes.  Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical.  Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

Not to get all dramatic about it, but the truth is that many companies are like Camazotz.  The denizens of Corporate America are all too happy to allow someone else “to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decisions.”  Unsurprisingly, Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace are unnerved by all the sameness.  To them, it’s creepy and unnatural. Why?  Because if everything is the SAME, how would you know if something is good or bad? 

That which moves us forward requires a lack of conformity.  Progress, by its very nature, is disruptive.  It interrupts the status quo.  It challenges us to bounce the ball to a different rhythm from everyone else.  Without disruption, we would be drones.

It’s hard to embrace our inner disruptor, though.  We are surrounded by people who will defend their right to a boring, thought-free, risk-free existence.  And, like IT, these people are often in leadership roles. Why? Because the more you have, the harder you will work to defend it.evolution-change

At one point, Meg and Charles Wallace see a little boy who bounces his ball out of rhythm – you know, as a little boy would play with a ball.  Rather than this being seen as a natural thing, it’s considered an Aberration:

The door of his house opened and out ran one of the mother figures.  She looked wildly up and down the street, saw the children and put her hand to her mouth as though to stifle a scream.

When you have chosen to trade your free will to avoid responsibility, it would appear you have also chosen to live in fear.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to work with people whose default setting is “don’t rock the boat.”  That doesn’t mean I’m an anarchist – it means I value individuality, risk taking, and looking forward.  I believe that what got us here won’t get us to the next level.  Gosh darn it, I’m a disruptor.

To further disruption in your environment, keep the following in mind:

  • Know your currency: Charles Wallace, intuitive genius that he is, is eventually seduced by the power of IT – not because he doesn’t want responsibility but because IT flatters his intelligence.  Many of us have trigger points or other elements that we hold dear and will defend to the (metaphorical) death. Be aware of yours and establish your personal boundaries so you don’t automatically go into defensive mode when you should be embracing a challenge.
  • Use frustration to your advantage: In the book, Meg says, “When I’m mad I don’t have room to be scared.” She uses one strong emotion to give herself courage to ignore her fear.  We all run into frustrations at work.  We get angry.  Would you rather sit and stew? Wouldn’t it be better to use that anger and frustration to give yourself the courage to try something new?
  • Understand WHY disruption is needed:  Meg saves Charles Wallace because she knows IT doesn’t understand love – her motive was purse, her cause just, her disruption a necessity.Change for change’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing.  It should be intentional.  WHY do you disrupt?  Is it to encourage new thinking and behaviors?  Or are you just being a contrarian? True disruptors use their powers for good, not evil.
  • Keep trying: Disruptors understand that success doesn’t always happen on the first try.  It takes persistence, adaptability, influence, charm, support, help, failure, learnings, repetition, new leadership…all of it.  But it’s worth it.

We keep talking about the importance of authenticity, letting your freak flag fly, being yourself at work.  If you believe in that, be open to a little disruption now and then.  It’s good for you.

“Maybe I don’t like being different,” Meg said, “but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Think disruption sounds cool? Want to explore your inner disruptor? If you are in the Denver area, join us for DisruptHR Denver – a FREE event on April 9, 2014, exploring new was to think about people and talent.  Visit for more information and to RSVP!