“It’s just that if you’re not disruptive everything seems to be repeated endlessly.” Robert Adamson, Australian poet
“Disruptive” sounds like something that needs to be disciplined. It’s not a very attractive term, but there may be a redeemable quality to it for parents. And since I really like the title of this post, I intend to find it.
You’ve probably heard the term “disruptive technology” before–those very cool game-changing innovations that completely transform how we do things. In the last few decades, some major DTs would be the personal computer, mobile phones, digital music, digital photography, the touch interface, and of course the Internet.
What I find interesting is that these disruptive innovations nearly always start out as inferior alternatives to the established competition. They are often derided at first, accused of being too “out there” to be practical, or too different to be useful. “Not gonna happen,” they may say. But soon the innovators are flexing their disruptive muscles, and the world, or some part of it, is changed.
So what has this to do with parenting? It has to do with how you think about the imagination. Here’s what I think: Imagination is inherently disruptive. It changes things. There is also a place for what one writer calls “sustaining innovation,” or improving on proven and familiar ways. However, your child’s unleashed imagination should at some level always be in pursuit of “disruptive innovation,” the creation of something new. And you need to make room for “disruptive imaginology.”
When Sarah, our first child, was sixteen she loved writing. Like other creative writers her age, she wrote stories, personal reflections, descriptive narratives, and the like. Bursts of youthful creativity and imagination. But Sarah had never written a book.
A book?! Yes, I know, she was only sixteen. But imagination is not limited by age. We had asked what she wanted to do for her senior homeschool project. She wanted to write a book, a series of fictional reflections on the faith of four single women in Scripture—Ruth, Esther, Mary of Bethany, and Mary mother of Jesus. Twelve chapters, illustrations, personal reflections with Scripture, probably 50,000 words. Really?
If I was a sustaining innovation kind of dad, I might have cautioned her, “You don’t have to do a whole book, for goodness sake. Just write a good story about one of those women. I don’t want you to take on more than you can do.” But I’m not, and I didn’t, so my disruptive response was, “That’s great! Let’s talk about what that means.”
Sarah and I discussed the name of the book and an outline. Sally talked with an editor she had worked with on a book, and soon Sarah was working with her on her manuscript. I found an illustrator from our time in Nashville, and a graphic artist for interior and cover design. We were all engaged in some serious disruptive imaginology.
Journeys of Faithfulness ~ Stories for the Heart for Faithful Girls was written in 2001 and published and released in 2002. By then Sarah had turned seventeen and was seeking God’s direction in life. I’m convinced that holding that physical book in her hands was a life-changing disruptive event. It showed her, and us, that she was not just a young girl who liked to write, but she was a writer. She was an author. Recently, she updated Journeys of Faithfulness and it was re-released by a new publisher in 2012. She also wrote Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families. She blogs, she writes here, she is a writer.
Sarah was an older child, but the same principles are true if your children are younger. Encourage your children to let their imaginations take them to new places. It may be writing, or music, or art, or a building project, or a cause, or a ministry, or a website, or a mobile app, or decorating their room, or organizing an event, or any of many exercises of the imagination. Give them freedom to be disruptive, and even more important, free yourself to become a co-disruptivator with them.
Be open to supporting your child’s disruptive imagination. If something captures their imagination, and it is something you can help them reach for, be ready to explore how you can make it happen. Fight against the gravitational pull to “put their feet back on the ground” with some lesser form of sustaining innovation. Resist that parental conditioned response to neutralize or minimize your child’s imaginative visions–to suggest an alternative that is more do-able, more realistic, less disruptive. Rather, when the idea and the time is right, put on your anti-gravitational boots together and fly with an idea. Let your child’s imagination go where it needs to go, and you go with them.
So encourage your child to be disruptive. With their imaginations, that is. You just never know when their idea or project or vision, given the right encouragement and opportunity, will become a lifelong passion, and perhaps even a calling or career. It really begins with you as a parent, though, being ready to fly when your child’s disruptive imagination begins to take off.
Photo by Josiah C. P. Smith
His senior project is some long-delayed children’s illustrated storybooks, and he’s still writing songs and even singing them at times.
His wife and children keep him humble, but never humilified (as long as he can neologize about it). You might find more about him on WholeHeart.org, his real job, or on ClayClarkson.com, his wannabe creativator website.