70. Disrupt Yourself (Whitney Johnson)

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Disrupt Yourself is a terrific book for individuals finding themselves at a cross-roads in their career.  It encourages the reader to take risks instead of taking the safe road and consider what you really want for the future.  It is based on disruptive innovation, coined by Clayton Christensen and author who I have had the privilege of hearing speak a couple of years ago (his book How Will You Measure Your life is another helpful guide).  Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself has been mentored by Christensen and has taken her own advice making dramatic career shifts.

The book is divided into 7 sections:

  1.  Take the Right Risks – This chapter discusses the importance of learning and understanding the problem that needs to be solved.  In changing roles it is essential to understand the new responsibilities and performance metrics so that you can focus on learning and addressing unmet needs that no one else is managing.
  2. Play to Your Distinctive Strengths – “Disruptors not only look for unmet needs, they match those needs with their distinctive strengths” which helps promote unique skills which enable you to thrive and become indispensable.  The author suggests considering what makes you feel strong, what makes you frustrated in others, what made you different as a child, what compliments do you shrug off and what are your hard won skills as a way to understand your own strengths so that these can be matched to gaps in the organization.
  3. Embrace Constraints – Johnson shares the benefits of constraints which help to provide structure, limit the options and promote creativity and innovation.   She shares an example of an author given the challenge of writing a 225 word children’s book filled with words that first graders could understand – the result is The Cat In the Hat!
  4. Battle Entitlement, The Innovation Killer – This chapter describes cultural, emotional and education entitlement and ways to avoid them.  To avoid cultural entitlement she suggests changing your environment, expanding networks (avoiding like minded individuals) and working in cross-functional teams enabling the blend of old and new ideas.  Being grateful, saying thank you and reflecting on your positives are ways to avoid emotional entitlement and reframing dissenting ideas and working to build consensus avoids intellectual entitlement. She notes that humility and understanding the changing world are skills that require changing ourselves to enable innovation and growth.
  5. Step Down, Back, or Sideways to Grow – To learn, it may be essential to step back or move sideways.  This can be challenging but it is important to remember that there are other benefits than just salary.  Other metrics such as doing work that makes a difference, more quality time at home or gaining experience can be considered.  Stepping back can sometimes become a springboard to future success but requires bravery and planning to take the chance to disrupt yourself for long-term gain.
  6. Give Failure its Due – Disruption comes with the risk of failure and the importance of considering failure as a growth and a learning experience.  Another literary example is provided describing how J.K. Rowling who was a depressed, single mother on the verge of bankruptcy and considering suicide, was catapulted to success when she wrote the wildly successful Harry Potter series.
  7. Driven by Discovery – Flexibility and a desire to learn help guide discovery where feedback provides the opportunity to adapt is the topic of the final chapter.

Disrupt Yourself is a quick read with helpful tips to consider when career planning and setting goals and milestones to guide your future path.  The book provides numerous helpful examples and key ideas to inspire innovation and consider new ways  of judging opportunities and setting measurements of success.  I am interested in reading the author’s first book:  Dare, Dream, Do.

“As  you look to tip the odds of success in your favour, beware of the undertow of the status quo…”

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