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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11 thoughts on “Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted

  1. John Hayes says:

    I can’t really address this from the perspective of a business person or entrepreneur, but from both an artistic & personal point of view I’ve found this to be 100% true over the years–but of course, while I’ve been in the midst of being disrupted, there’s always the sense that I must hang on. Finally I reach a point where I see no alternative & I do disrupt my life. That’s very much the story of where I am in my personal life now–a thoroughgoing disruption that I chose for myself. Now I’m simply waiting for my creative side to catch up. An inspiring post, & much to think about.

  2. sandymaxey says:

    Thank you for your comment, John. Having worked as an artist and in business, I’ve come to understand there is much learning to be shared between the two. Being willing to learn and apply this wisdom, to whatever realm I’m in, has helped me to live a “broad” as well as “deep” life.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this ever since i read it last night, Sandy. I – like John – have been placing this more in context of art and creativity and what i do, but in applying it to myself i see the value and the times where the disruption happened around me and i’ve attributed my ‘great adaptability’ to being able to adjust. I only now realize that i was headed (and subconsciously preparing) for the disruption myself long before it happened.

    I’ll be ready to follow and add to the discussion tonight (assuming work doesn’t hijack me)!

    thanks for sharing your depth, Sandy. – zen

    • sandymaxey says:

      Thank you, Zen. I am so thrilled to see such interest from creative people. I feel these ideas transcend any given sector. So much to learn from each other. I really hope you can join us tonight!

  4. mckra1g says:

    Excited to be present at the birth of something new! Thank you for being such a wonderful person, Sandy. I appreciate you.

  5. How did I miss this? Awesomeness– and honored. It was really fun last night.

  6. […] 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 […]

    • sandymaxey says:

      Thank you, Jorge. On a personal level, constant disruption is easier to continually remind oneself. I’m not seeing the same intention in large companies. Innovation is in danger of becoming a buzzword, more jargon.

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