Monthly Archives: November 2011

On Mere Belonging, Tricksters and Jon Cropper’s Ghost: Reflections on the First #DisruptU Chat

“I’m blown away by the numbers who are in similar boat. And it’s all over headlines, disrupting Wall St, uprisings in Middle East, I feel like a fractal… ” ~Jen Silbert

“…we ‘receive…inclinations and sentiments’ from others. What inspires us to act-the tasks, activities, and fields of study that we choose to pursue in the face of difficulty and frustration forms a fundamental part of our self identity…a mere sense of social connectedness, even with unfamiliar others, can cause significant changes in the self, personal interests and motivation.” ~  Walton et al,  Mere Belonging: The Power of Social Connections (PDF)

My apologies for the tardiness of the post. While grappling with a particularly tenacious strain of the flu, I’ve been reviewing last week’s  #DisruptU chat. Under normal circumstances a quick review would yield key insights offered in a succinct blog post. Alas, febrile delirium, a perpetually stuffy head and G-force fatigue have provided intermittent connections between chat themes and the bizarre amalgamation of information I read and review.  Illness combined with some weird Writer’s aphasia (which I fear is my new normal) and my “Hamster Wheel of Life” existence have stymied my progress, despite my intentions. However, I have been thinking about Disrupt Yourself.

On Mere Belonging

First, I’m incredibly grateful for the first#DisruptU chat. I had never moderated a chat before that day and felt rather clumsy in my general inexperience and ineptitude.  I felt a certain level of faith in those involved directly; Trust is a great way to start something new. I was positively overwhelmed by the diversity of people who participated,  the level of authenticity and vulnerability exhibited by participants, and the dynamism of dialogue. The Mere Belonging research describes perfectly the impact of the #DisruptU chat: being connected in an authentic discussion with others has energized me. I re-read the chat eager to learn from the wisdom so generously offered.

@skap5: Disrupting yourself means reconfiguring your personal capabilities to stay relevant before being forced to. #DisruptU

Saul Kaplan‘s initial tweet filled me with a sort of eeyoric dread. Still smarting from my friend’s assessment that I was behind the curve on my own personal transformation, I found myself getting a bit prickly when I read Saul’s post- ranks up there with the “Beware the Ides of March” warning.
Whitney Johnson mentioned that she was surprised at how hard disrupting herself was. “It’s like saying ‘I’m at the end of all my troubles’ Which end?” John Hagel’s #BIF7 presentation reverberated through my brain. Disrupting yourself is not supposed to be a story, complete with a beginning and a definitive end. In an age where change is the only constant, disrupting yourself must be a thread in the long-line narrative. Living a life that is both wide and deep- a life on the edge-requires  that you willingly embrace purposeful disruption. I started to see Saul’s admonishment as a touchstone guiding principle rather than a rebuke for my previous recalcitrance.
Through the course of reading other people’s comments about their own experience disrupting themselves, their fears and lessons learned, I recognized the power of aligning myself with other people who value personal disruption. As Jen Silbert mentioned, disruption is happening all around us. We are all fractals now. Merely belonging to the #DisruptU chat is a powerful tool for navigating the ubiquitous process.
On Tricksters

The trickster is anybody who’s a bit of an outsider. They’re the ones who make change. They’re not thinking about making changes, they’re almost doing it in a selfish way. But because they’re working outside the rules, they change the rules. Everything around them is always new, everything is an opportunity …

[T]hey got to the place where they are because they worked outside the system. They do mischievous things, but they’re extremely disciplined. Because that’s the other thing about tricksters: They’re never lazy. They’re very industrious.

It’s important to honour mischief-making, in a constructive and creative way, because that’s how we effect change. And it’s so important that we figure out our inner mischief maker. That’s the creative part of us. And everybody’s capable of it.

I stumbled upon this remarkable blog post that presented an archetype for those disrupting themselves- the trickster. (Watch Emily Levine’s hysterical TED talk at the end of the post.) As someone who appreciates the role of archetypes in storytelling, I found this impish character to be delightful and compelling. #DisruptU participant Greg Kaple  embodies this archetype. From his initial introduction (“Kaple like maple only sweeter, #bif7 attendee, resident appalachian trouble maker and #disruptu eaves dropper”) to his descriptions of his wild tales of playing harmonica on a street corner. I admire his passion for disruption and his discipline. He provided a perspective for a puckish, deliberate, enthusiastic passion for disruption. Greg, I owe you a huge debt for reminding me how absolutely fun and subversive disruption can be, with the right attitude and a wicked evil grin.
On Jon Cropper’s Ghost
@gkaple The more comfortable you are with who you are the more risk you can take in disrupting without losing yourself
Following #BIF7, I have had a recurring dream where  Jon Cropper is repeatedly asking me: “Who are you?” I can tell you, Cropper is an  intimidating guy- big, intense, incredibly successful. I awaken from these dreams quaking, just as I did when my Grad School Research Design professor would repeatedly ask “What’s your research question?” Cue the Final Jeopardy music.  A strong sense of self is critical for disrupting yourself, but that self-knowledge may sometimes not be so clear or may be changed.
From recognizing your own idiosyncratic signs that disruption is needed, to heeding the signs and navigating an often nebulous path, a strong sense of self is a touchstone. However, the process itself can disrupt your own perceptions of self. Personally, there have been times when I have not recognized my own reflection when doing something remarkably, exuberantly disruptive.
The #DisruptU chat involved a lengthy discussion about authenticity and self-knowledge. Disrupting yourself requires confidence in both your intuition and your voice. However, this process can sometimes leave you with a sort of personal post-concussive experience. Who you are may well change shape. Certain aptitudes, skill sets and  personal traits may not be as evident or accessible. Taking a cue from Greg, I’ve begun to see these changes as neutral and as opportunities to develop new ways of doing and thinking.  As someone who could write a ten-page policy brief in 30 minutes, I have struggled with my Writer’s aphasia. I can feel what I want to say, but there is some weird disconnect between tactile perception and my ability to render a cogent sentence. I’ve also had a very difficult time reading, but now I’m “experiencing” poetry and listening to music. Since the #DisruptU chat, I’m embracing this new way of perceiving. Clearly I needed to develop my kinesthetic capacities, so I’m working with it, albeit in a charmingly clumsy way. This has become a part of my personal #DisruptU process. I’m actually incredibly curious about what I’m learning. I trust myself and my voice and this new aptitude is fascinating to me.
I’ve been mesmerized by this video and would love to hear how Whyte’s assertion that our “vulnerabilities and slight woundedness are our core competency” relates to disrupting yourself.
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Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted

This post is intended as a starting point for the first Disrupt Yourself Twitter chat scheduled for Wednesday, November 9 @8pm. Follow at #DisruptU.   Many thanks to Jen Silbert for her thought-provoking tweet that started it all.  ** Post may be less than cogent due to a particularly tenacious strain of the flu**


“Most people, I believe, are living four or five years behind the curve of their own transformation. I see it all the time, in my own life and others. The temptation is to stay in a place where we were previously comfortable, making it difficult to move to the frontier that we’re actually on now. ” ~David Whyte

“We give a lot of airtime to building disruptive products and services, to buying and/or investing in disruptive companies, and we should. Both are vital engines of economic growth. But, the most overlooked engine of growth is the individual. If you are really looking to move the world forward, begin by innovating on the inside, and disrupt yourself.” ~ Whitney Johnson

In August,  I received an email from an old friend which included this quote from  Poet David Whyte’s essay “Ten Questions That Have No Right To Go Away.” My friend commented that I had been “behind the curve on (your) own transformation. You were on your heels, not on your toes.” My friend admonished me to “blow things up and re-create” myself. Although he was quite kind and supportive, I found myself bristling at his tone. I wasn’t disagreeing with his assessment, but found little utility in retrospective self-flagellation. Furthermore,  detonation of a fragile subsistence hardly sounded generative or actionable. My resistance was short-lived.

That same day, Whitney Johnson posted “Disrupt Yourself” on her Harvard Business Review blog.  I’ve long admired Johnson. How she has succeeded is as admirable as her level of success. She was courageous in her vulnerability and generous with her insights. As importantly, the “Disrupt Yourself” framework reminded me of my inherent stagnation-aversion. I had willingly disrupted myself in the past, so how could I be so risk-averse about doing so at this juncture? In one of those “Cue the cosmic laughter” ironic moments, I recognized that my personal behavior was more congruent with those very organizations I had railed against.  Opportunities for alignment and congruence are a gift.

The brilliance of Johnson’s post lies in the personal application of widely-accepted business innovation concepts. This framework, complete with business research citations, depersonalizes shadows of fear, doubt and unknowing. These factors are assumed to be a given in business, why not for personal transformation? Johnson’s pragmatic discussion about her lessons learned shed light on the very roots of resistance:

  • Be assured that you have no idea what will come next. Because disruptive innovations are in search of a yet-to-be-defined market, we can’t know the opportunity at the outset.  “Dear You. If you ask for pro forma projections about what disrupting yourself will look like, you are wasting your time. Stop it.”
  • Throw out the performance metrics you’ve always relied on. “A disruptive innovation must measure different attributes of performance than those in your current value networks.” “Nearly everyone hits a point in their life where they examine their trajectory and consider a pivot. We typically label this mid-life crisis, but isn’t it more often a re-thinking as to which performance attributes matter?”
  • Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course.  “…firms seeking growth via new markets are 6x more likely to succeed than firms seeking growth by entering established markets, and the revenue opportunity is 20x greater. It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? When we start in a place where no one else wants to play, where the scope of the opportunity appears limited, the odds of success actually improve.”  “As you walk away from a future you easily foresee toward a more obscure trajectory, there will be times when you will feel lonely, scared, and even impoverished. But as you face your personal innovator’s dilemma, both the probability and magnitudes of success will improve greatly.”
Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. Those are the choices. Begin with a generative framework that depersonalizes the process. From that context, disrupting myself is as exciting as market disruption. What are your thoughts, ideas or questions about disrupting yourself? Let’s make the disruption a little less lonely: Please join the #DisruptU twitter chat on Wednesday at 8pm
Read more about how to disrupt yourself from the ever-insightful Molly Cantrell-Kraig here.
View Whitney Johnson’s BIF7 presentation here
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