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.”