Whitney Johnson Transcript

Most of us have had our lives disrupted by the current pandemic in some way. We have had to find new ways to connect with friends and family, we aren’t traveling as much (or at all), and we’re having to adapt to new ways of working and learning. It might feel like you have little to no control over what is happening, but as Whitney shares, “if we’re going to manage the disruption, we need to disrupt ourselves”.

You can watch a video of our full conversation below or just listen to the audio version as a podcast.

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How to disrupt yourself and why it matters

Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School was Whitney’s mentor and she co-founded The Disruptive Innovation Fund with him. It was Clayton who coined the term disruptive innovation, which he talked about in his book, Innovator’s Dilemma. The idea behind the term was that a small silly idea can take over the world, for example how the telephone disrupted the telegraph or how the automobile disrupted the horse and buggy. In more modern examples, we can see how Netflix disrupted Blockbuster and how Uber disrupted cabs.

Whitney took that idea and instead of applying it to a product or a company she applied it to individuals–personal disruption. But she says there is one big difference between personal disruption and what Clayton was talking about. With personal disruption, you are both the small silly idea and the idea taking over the world. You are both Netflix and Blockbuster. You are both Uber and a cab.

Why should we disrupt ourselves? Whitney says, “the question you have to ask yourself is, do I wanna jump or do I want to get pushed? When you jump, you’re acting. When you get pushed, you’re going to feel pushed, and it will feel like a failure. And it’s a very different equation around resilience and rebounding than if you’ve chosen to jump.” Disruption is going to happen, whether we want it to or not. We control whether we disrupt ourselves or let disruption happen to us.

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The seven steps to managing the S-Curve of learning and mastery

In Whitney’s book, Disrupt Yourself, she gives seven accelerants that can help you speed up your learning and mastery.

She says “The idea is, at the base of the S the growth is slow until you reach a tipping point or you near the curve and you move into hyper growth. And then you get to saturation, the growth tapers off. Well, that insight was that the S-Curve could help us understand how we learn. It could help us understand how we grow, how we develop. So, whenever you start something new, you are at the base of an S. Whether it’s a new project, it’s a new job, whether it’s dealing with COVID-19, you’re at the base of the S and growth is happening, but it can feel very slow. It can look like a slog. But knowing that helps you avoid discouragement. And then you put in the effort, and you accelerate competence and confidence and engagement. The idea of personal disruption is, you move up that S-curve, you learn and then you leave and then you repeat. You do that over and over again, and the faster you’re able to do it, the higher-growth individual you can become.”

The seven steps are:

  • Take on market risk— The idea of playing where no one else is playing. We are much more likely to be successful if we can be the one to create instead of waiting to compete with others who have already created.
  • Play to your distinctive strengths–lean into what you do well, and mitigate the weaknesses that derail you.
  • Embrace your constraints–Your constraints could be time, money, supporters, etc..whatever they are, embrace them and use them to your advantage. Tension positively impacts innovation
  • Battle your sense of entitlement–Don’t sit back and wait for things to come to you. You are no more or less important than anyone else. Put yourself out there and make it happen
  • Step back to grow–Your journey to success isn’t a straight line. Sometimes in order to disrupt yourself you may have to take a few steps back to ultimately move forward
  • Give failure its due–The more you are willing to fail, the faster you will get better. We have to separate the act of failing with the emotional response of shame.
  • Be driven by discovery–take a step forward, gather feedback, and adapt.

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