Disrupt Yourself and Get Unstuck

“Like a novice trapeze artist letting go of the old to leap to the new, we are sure to experience a moment of midair terror. But we are far less likely to fall if we fling ourselves onto the next curve. And, in the seemingly terrible moment of transition, your dreams—the engine of disruption—will buoy you. Are you ready to jump?” – Whitney Johnson, Disrupt Yourself

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. Too often change feels like drinking from a fire hose.  We need frameworks to help us absorb, process and respond thoughtfully and deliberately to upheaval.

In her fantastic new book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney Johnson draws upon decades of experience as an award-winning investor and leading thinker on corporate innovation to put order and structure around personal disruption so it no longer feels like chaos.

We recently had a chance to discuss how she hoped Disrupt Yourself will help people become “unstuck” and realize their full potential.

CY: Whitney, you co-founded Rose Park Advisors with Clay Christensen, who first popularized the concept of “Disruption Theory” for organizations. When did you realize that the steps guiding disruption could also apply to and help individuals?

WJ: My “aha moment came as I read The Innovator’s Dilemma in 2005. As an equity analyst, I was already persuaded that the frameworks of disruption explained why mobile penetration in Mexico was quickly outpacing fixed-line penetration. But as I read the book closely, I wondered, do these frameworks also apply to individuals, and to me, in particular? If innovation is an inside game, can an organization truly drive corporate innovation without personal disruption?

CY: In a world where change seems to be a constant day in and day out, how does disrupting yourself help regain some control over what can often feel like chaos?

WJ: Each of us has a view of the world that is powered by personal algorithms. We look at how all the component pieces of our lives interact and try to come up with patterns to help us predict what will happen next. When systems behave linearly and react immediately, we’re fairly accurate with our forecasts. That’s why toddlers love discovering light switches, flip a switch and the light goes on. But when they don’t, our predictive power plummets.

One of the best ways to help us deal with these time delays is the S-curve model because it provides milestones we can watch for.

When we first try something new (like start a new job or become a new parent) we know that progress will appear to be slow as we build momentum. Think about the base of a capital S. This helps us avoid discouragement. As we put in hours of practice, we become increasingly competent — and our confidence soars. This is the sleek steep back of the S. Then at the top of the S, we may be quite good at what we are doing (whether as a parent or an employee), but at this point, a lot of effort really does lead to little progress, resulting in boredom and frustration. If you are a parent, you need to let your children go off to college. In your career, take on a new responsibility, or change jobs. In either case, if you don’t jump to a new curve, the seeming plateau, can become a precipice.

How does understanding disruption help manage the chaos? Because the non-linearity, the sense that cause and effect are disconnected, in part, creates that chaotic feeling. When you understand that huge effort now may yield little, and high output today may be the consequence of prior work, you regain a sense of control.

CY: What is the one thing you hope people walk away with after reading “Disrupt Yourself?”

WJ: Companies don’t disrupt, people do. Disruption is a skill set. The more disruptive, the better you’ll get. If you can ride the S-curve waves of learning and mastery, you will have a competitive advantage in an era of accelerating disruption.

Distilled — personal disruption is about moving from stuck to unstuck. If I can inspire even one person to be unstuck, I will be happy.

CY: Thank you, Whitney! I know you’ve already helped me. Pre-order Disrupt Yourself, and jump!