To disrupt or disturb? The problem of spilt milk

milkI dislike the word disruption. I really dislike it. I struggle to understand why people actually PLAN disruption at work. Maybe you plan disruption? I’m curious. Why?

To me it is a violent word. And there is enough violence in the world without anyone planning it and setting about achieving it in the places we work.

I prefer the word disturbance. Disturbance is uncomfortable. It makes us wriggle in our seats. The question we don’t want to face. The observation we’d rather not have heard. The opinion we share tentatively, worried that we may have gone too far.

In a recent meeting, on the table in front of us was a small jug of chilled milk. As an impromptu experiment, I asked my peer what he would do to disrupt the jug of milk.

“Pick up the jug and pour the milk all over the table and floor, or maybe throw the jug at the wall”, he said.

I asked him how he would disturb the jug of milk instead. He would push it. I asked him to disturb the jug right there and then. He pushed it a little, maybe a centimetre, to the left.

As he reflected on what had changed, he noted the milk had moved inside the jug as he pushed it, but not a drop had been spilt. But the jug, and the milk, had moved.

Disturbance. It’s uncomfortable. It leads us to check our assumptions, our intentions, our behaviour. And who knows where that may lead for the brave and well-intentioned, with the right support?

Disturbance. It’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t spill the milk.