DO YOU START WITH the acknowledgments when you pick up a new book? I do, and this one instantly drew me in when I saw Clayton Christiansen mentioned. I read his book, How Will You Measure Your Life a few years ago and was an instant fan. “Disrupting yourself is critical to avoiding stagnation, being overtaken by younger, smarter, faster workers, and fast-tracking your personal and career growth.” That quote from the book is the first of many reasons why this book was a good choice for me and will be a good choice for you.
Beginning with the introduction we start to learn how disruptions affect what goes on in our brains and how they can work in our favor. The author’s scrupulously researched text gives us seven variables that help us gain mastery in our personal and professional lives. It’s not a straight line from the base to the pinnacle, it’s more like an s-curve and, like traversing an S-curve, expect progress to be deliberate, but slow. Advancing through the s-curve described by Johnson are symbolic milestones: competence, confidence, then mastery.
Navigating the Seven Variables
Take the right risks – We often think in terms of finances when we assess risk. That’s certainly an important factor but risks can be tied to consequences related to functional, emotional, and financial endeavors. Choosing one path over another has an after effect which is why we want to have a solid understanding of why we are making that choice. For those who are reluctant to take risks, consider the author’s advice to adopt the mindset that you will gain far more by venturing forth and much to lose by standing still. What do you want to do? When you know that, go do it.
Play to your distinctive strengths – “A distinctive strength is something that you do well that others within your sphere do not.” A hallmark of a disruptor is finding a place where there is need then determining if you have the skills and strengths so fill it. If you think you’ve already been through the self-assessment process of identifying your strengths, this chapter is going to help you dig deeper into what you have already discovered and reveal those that are less obvious. You will be introduced to a method of finding out if your distinctive strengths are a good fit for a place where there is a need or if it’s wrong for you. The key is being able to discern whether there is a match between your strengths and the job that must be done. If the job is not a good match, your advancement along the s-curve will be impeded and you will struggle to reach competence. Be in search of a place where fulfilling your unique calling will be an asset in also filling unmet needs.
Embrace constraints – We don’t like limiting words like restrict, regulation, rules, boundaries, and constraints. But as the author reminds us, “Constraints offer structure that can liberate us from the chaos and disorder of entropy.” In fact, we need constraints to make better decisions, to learn in smaller increments, to help us focus, and constraints help us to be judicious stewards of money and time. In a world where we like to say things like, “What would you do if there were no restrictions holding you back?” we eventually come to realize that restrictions serve a valuable purpose. This book brings out the truth in how constraints are tools that work in our favor. Constraints are muscle builders for professional growth. Pushing and pulling against obstacles leads to smarter…faster… stronger.
Battle entitlement, the innovation killer – “Everyone feels entitled”. How many times have you heard that said just in the past month? In this chapter, Whitney Johnson displays the realities of what having a sense of entitlement does to progress – and none of it is good. She openly discusses three types of entitlement, Cultural, Emotional, Intellectual, then from her own experiences and research, shares her wise counsel in an antidote to circumvent the eventual fallouts.
Cultural Entitlement says we are so comfortable where we are and in what we’ve accomplished we don’t notice things happening around us. Antidote: Transplant yourself to new cultures.
Emotional Entitlement says I deserve this or life owes me this. Antidote: Be grateful.
Intellectual Entitlement, as the author points out, is difficult to detect. It says we become unwilling to listen to or consider ideas from sources we deem beneath us. Antidote: Practice Hearing Dissenting Voices.
Summing up this chapter, Johnson reminds us to disrupt ourselves before disrupting others. That’s good advice – look inside before looking beyond. As she says, “Let’s not risk losing a lofty dream because we think we deserve it.”
Step down, back, or sideways to grow – Think about the word disruption. Isn’t the image one of moving pieces chaotically trying to find a place to settle in? Up, down, backward, forward. Now apply that to the real life scenario of progressing along your learning curve. As the chapter title suggests, to grow, there are times when the best forward movement starts with taking a step back. This chapter tells the stories of familiar organizations like Yahoo, Tractor Supply, and BRE Bank, whose patterns were woven with backward, downward, and sideways steps. Even more interesting are the stories of individuals, like Dave Blakely and Carine Clark, who moved laterally or downward before becoming a major player in large organizations like IDEO and MartizCX.
We all change over time. What was once our main driving force has fallen off the radar; not because it wasn’t important then, but because we have become more self-aware and have learned to match our strengths to roles that need to be filled. This quote from the book brought the game plan into focus. “Most people hit a point in their lives where they examine a trajectory and consider a pivot. We typically label this the midlife crisis. In disruptive, innovation terminology, it’s a rethinking of which performance attributes matter. We ask, “What can I do to make my life really count?” The metrics we use to define success shift as a consequence.”
Here is a playbook for personal, professional innovation. If you’re going to create a different life than the one you have, get ready to take risks. Get ready to know yourself completely. What are you really good at naturally, and what sets you apart? Where is there a need the same shape as the skills you have to fill it?
Give failure its due – Growth happens, not through full-throttle, forward momentum but through the s-curve which more often takes you backward, forward, and sideways in experience and eventual mastery. We all fail, but is it really failure, or is it really a learning opportunity. The chapter devoted to “Giving Failure Its Due” is convincing of that. It ends with, “If you welcome failure as a guide and teacher, you’re more likely to find your way to success.”
Be driven by discovery – If you want to get off the square where you now stand in your career or in any part of your life, you will need to disrupt yourself. You will need to become a pioneer intent on self-discovery, strategic discovery, market discovery, and be ready for the unexpected. We hear ‘embrace change’ constantly. In this book, we learn to ‘be driven by discovery’. That’s how we plan, that’s how we learn, that’s how we move along the s-curve from the square we are on, to the mastery of the dream we aspire to. “A simple metric: Show up and keep showing up.”[/message]
In the moment of transition, your dreams – the engine of disruption – will buoy you. Are you ready to jump?