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20 Most Disruptive Innovators of 2016

disrupt

As Clay Christensen points out, these twenty people are just like you. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

On Friday, April 22nd, I attended one of the most inspiring and arguably one of the best award shows available to entrepreneurs today: The Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. So many CEOs talk the jargon of innovation, but actually disrupting entire industries is another matter. This award show featured 20 of the most disruptive innovators of our day and I had an incredible journey learning about what really inspiring people are doing to make our world a better place to live.

Rockin’ 1000’s Creator, Fabio Zaffagnini, Creates the Ultimate Flashmob
The event kicked off with a simple question: “How does a small town in Italy get The Foo Fighters to play in their town?” The answer was to get 1,000 musicians to record a video “Learn to Fly” and personally invite the band to join them. The video was impressive and received over 30 million views on YouTube. This was Fabio Zaffagnini’s vision and the start of the Rockin’ 1000. The lead singer, Dave Grohl, of the Foo Fighters was inspired, moved and agreed to play a show in Cesena, Italy.

Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson Share a Vision of Beauty Beneath Massive Eye Sores
All along California and the Gulf of Mexico, you can see giant oil rigs (and what most residents refer to as eye sores). Through much petitioning, many of these oil rigs are being closed down. What Blue Latitudes Co-Founders Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson discovered, however, is that there is a full underwater ecosystem below the rigs. So what’s ugly as sin above the water is actually cultivating an incredibly gorgeous and thriving marine ecosystem below the water. Their underwater photography is changing the nature of the conversation about how these rigs are dismantled in ecologically friendly ways to save the wildlife currently living below the structure of these rigs.

Brent Stapelkamp Takes Breathtaking Pictures to Engage in Conversations
Brent Stapelkamp is using his incredible photography to change the nature of the conversation about the extinction of our planet’s endangered animals. Through capturing awe-inspiring imagery, he’s providing that emotional connection you need to have empathy and care about the animals who’s habitats and populations are shrinking.

Louie Psihoyos Projects Movies on Iconic Buildings to Raise Awareness
This one must be seen to be fully appreciated. The name “Projecting Change” simply doesn’t do it justice. Here, Mr. Psihoyos projects his movies “Racing Extinction” and “The Cove” on iconic buildings such as the Empire State Building and The Vatican in order to raise awareness. Visually stunning movies projected on top of iconic buildings in front of millions of tourists. Brilliant way to raise awareness.

Dr. Richard Leakey Burns $100 Million (~20 Tons) of Ivory To Prove a Point
After a lifetime dedicated to stopping the illegal sale of ivory and rhino horn from poachers, the poaching industry is alive and well. To prove this point, Dr. Richard Leakey has organized a mass incineration of nearly 20 tons of ivory that was confiscated post his retirement not more than 15 years ago.

Ron and Owen Suskind Break the Autism Language Barrier Through Disney Movie Dialogue
What if the only way you could communicate with your autistic son was through the language of Disney movies? The New York Times broke this story and now there is a new book, “Life, Animated” coming out to chronicle the incredible story and breakthrough between a family and their autistic son. The full story is available online at Ronsuskind.com.

Jenna Arnold & Greg Segal Create a Hashtag That Saves Lives via Donations of Organs
While the vast majority of people would happily donate their organs to those in need, the process to become an organ donor is most states prohibits more people from becoming one. What if you could simply register and make your desire to be an organ donor known through a simple hashtag like #DonnateMyParts on social media? Yeah, that’s disruptive alright, and it also saves lives.

Renaud LaPlanche Disrupts the Banking Industry
What if you could get a better rate on a loan by bypassing the banking industry altogether? That was Renaud LaPlanche’s vision and the foundation of Lending Club. Investors, for example, who want to disrupt credit card companies’ high interest rates (often as much as 20%) can support borrowers who want to consolidate their credit card debt and pay half as much (i.e. 10%). In theory, everyone is better off as more money gets to those who need it and investors willing to lend the money earn better than market interest rates.

Scott Harrison Continues to Deliver Clean Water to Millions of People
Chances are, you know about Charity Water. Scott Harrison continues to build water wells for disadvantaged communities as well as increasing their monitoring technology to ensure all the wells continue to produce water for their intended communities. A great company that continues to do great work.

Alec Ross is Honored for his Book of the Year: “The Industries of the Future”
I wasn’t able to stay for this breakout session as the award ceremonies went longer than planned, but by all accounts you should plan on reading Alec Ross’ new book as he is considered one of America’s leading experts on innovation and his New York Times bestseller, “The Industries of the Future” is geared towards helping entrepreneurs navigate disruptive change.

Thomas Heatherwick Delivers Stunning Design Projects Globally
“The world is full of great designers, but visionary commissioners are the real heroes” says Thomas Heatherwick who received a lifetime achievement award. You’ve seen his work even if you don’t recognize his name.

Alan Eustace Does a Stratospheric Parachute Jump (Higher than Red Bull)
While Felix Baumgartner was the first person to free fall from space (in partnership with Red Bull), Alan Eustace holds the record for the longest free fall from space at 14 minutes long and a distance of 25.7 miles (more than a mile higher than Mr. Baumgartner). Just when we thought we reached the limit of what’s possible, Alan Eustace reached higher and fell further than anyone in the world.

Max Kenner’s Bart Prison Initiative Serves Up World-Class College Education in Prison
Research has shown that US taxpayers save $4 to $5 in reimprisonment costs for every $1 it spends on prison education. And did you know that the BPI division of the Bard Debate Union competed against both Harvard and West Point and won? A college education isn’t a right in the US, but those who have one are much better prepared to serve society–even after being incarcerated. Max Kenner, Founder & Executive Director of the Bard Prison Initiative is working hard to support the educational needs of both our society and prison inmates.

Adam Foss: A Prosecutor with a Vision for a Better Juvenile Justice System
Less than 3 months in, Adam Foss’ Ted Talk has over 940k views. He points out just how many of us did stupid stuff when we were kids (from fighting to stealing to doing drugs), yet very few of us went to jail for our infractions. Mr. Foss believes that “it is incumbent that prosecutors lead and not follow in the criminal justice reform movement.” Adam Foss is a true Juvenile Justice Reformer.

Jennifer Jacquet Believes Public Shaming Can Make the World a Better Place
Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at NYU. Her new book, Is Shame Necessary, explores how shame can be used as an agent for positive change in the world–especially when examining challenging the “norms” on everything from climate change to ideological divides.

Hilde Lysiak, at 9 Years Old, Co-Founds Orange Street News & Cracks a Murder Investigation
Remember my previous article Rethinking Youth Empowerment as Generation Z Blows Your Mind? Well here’s yet another incredible example of a 9 year old girl disrupting an established industry. This time it’s the news media. Two sisters, Hilde Kate and Isabel Rose Lysiak, partnered together to launch Orange Street News, which is a hyper local blog / news site that covers the happenings of Selinsgrove, PA. I used to deliver newspapers at 12 years old. These sisters have created their own digital newspaper and even received tips which lead to an arrest of a local murder investigation. Talk about disruptive innovation in the news and media!

Anthony Romero of ACLU Brings Edward Snowden on Stage Broadcasting Live from a Secure Location
When Perri Peltz, host of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, asked the audience to turn off their WiFi, we knew something special was about to happen. Never would I have guessed I’d see Edward Snowden rolled on stage via a mobile robot broadcasting live from a secure location. This was an incredibly disruptive innovation that allowed the entire audience to hear Edward Snowden speak. Very impressed with Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union for making this happen.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Makes Alexander Hamilton Cool Again
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a composer, lyricist, actor and is best know for creating and staring in the Broadway musical Hamilton. He was recently awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Hamilton–not to mention Time’s 100 most influential people for 2016 (and makes the cover).

Nate Parker Sweeps Top Prizes at Sundance with Birth of a Nation Movie
“Being a disruptor is a lonely place” says Nate Parker. As an activist and breakout filmmaker, Nate Parker asks himself daily what his children, his most important critics, will think about the bold actions he’s taken. While he’s thrilled by all the media support and attention around his film, he is his own harshest critic and demands more of himself than anyone could reasonably expect. Perhaps this is why he stole the show with his inspiring words and insights.

Clay Christensen, best-selling author, agent of change and co-founder of the Disruptor Foundation, was moved to tears by what Nate Parker had to say about himself and everyone in that room. To which Clay Christensen tossed out the prepared speech he had made and simply spoke from the heart–moving many others, myself included, in that room. My favorite quote from Mr. Christensen was, “We, as plain old ordinary people, can do extraordinary things.”

And that truly was one of the most inspiring moments of the day. The 20 most disruptive innovators of 2016 are people just like you; ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in or what you’ve done up until now. There is a disruptive innovator inside of you and if you haven’t let him or her out for awhile, then perhaps it’s time to do so now.

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