Review: “Disrupt Yourself” by Whitney Johnson

Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “Everyone wants to change the world. No one wants to change themselves.”

Whitney Johnson might say that person is at the top of their “S-curve,” and ripe for personal disruption.

Disrupt Yourself - Whitney Johnson

Johnson, in her most recent book, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work (2015, Bibliomotion) cleverly applies the popular notion of disruptive innovation to personal reinvention. Disruptive innovation, a term coined and popularized by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, refers to innovation, initially targeting the low-end of a market that eventually disrupts market leaders. Think Netflix disrupting Blockbuster.

Disruptive innovation, and many phenomena, follow an S-curve. The rate of adoption of the innovation is slow at first, until a tipping point is reached. Then growth skyrockets until market saturation slows it down again. This model, Whitney suggests, applies to personal innovation and disruption as well:

“Self-disruption will force you up steep foothills of new new information, relationships, and systems. The looming mountain may seem insurmountable, but the S-curve helps us understand that if we keep working at it, we can reach that inflection point where our understanding competence will suddenly shoot upward.”

When we understand the S-curve, Whitney argues, we’re better able to navigate the challenge along the way. We can stave off discouragement common in the early stages, manage the stress of hyper-learning, and recognize the inflection points signaling it’s time to move on again.

Through Disrupt Yourself’s 130 pages, Whitney shares seven “variables” that can affect our progress on the S-curve:

  1. Taking the right risks
  2. Playing to your distinctive strengths
  3. Embracing constraints
  4. Battling entitlement
  5. Stepping back to grow
  6. Giving failure its due
  7. Being discovery driven

Each of these principles are presented with anecdotal illustrations drawn from Whitney’s vast network as well as from her own highly disruptive life where, without any business acumen, she successfully pivoted from a position of secretary in a Wall Street sales brokerage house to become one of the leading industry analysts for Merrill Lynch, and subsequently cofounded (along with Clayton Christensen) the investment firm Rose Park Advisors. She now writes and speaks extensively about driving innovation through personal disruption with her writings appearing in Harvard Business Review and other publications.

This is a must read for anyone seriously ready to disrupt themselves.

Go on. Change the world, but start at home base first.

Comment below: Would you add any other considerations to Whitney’s list of seven?

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