Want Innovation? Use Whitney Johnson’s Disruption Rules
“Are you sure you aren’t making a mistake?”
I had just announced to one of my dearest friends that I planned to walk away from Wall Street and my seven-figure salary.
“Yes, I’m sure.” But was I?
In leaving Wall Street, I was not only walking away from the money that came with my position, but from a certain level of prestige and power as well. I had worked for over a decade to develop relationships with Latin American business leaders, several of whom were on Forbes’ billionaire list. These influencers were now reading my research, meeting with me, quoting me, and even occasionally quaking when I’d downgrade their stock.
Notwithstanding the considerable career and financial (I am the primary breadwinner) risks involved, it was time to leave my comfortable perch and become an entrepreneur. Time to disrupt myself. We typically define disruption as a low-end product or service that eventually upends an industry. But I’ve found that the rules of disruption apply to the individual too.
A decade into my mid-career move, here are some lessons learned from my personal disruptive trajectory:
If it feels scary and lonely, you’re probably on the right track
The term “disruptive innovation” has become an industry buzzword. We all want to start or work at a disruptive company, but in reality an innovation that takes place at the low-end of the market or where there is no market (yet) is just not that sexy. My start on Wall Street as a secretary was, without a doubt, a low-end, if not potentially a dead end, job. But it got me in the door, and positioned me for a disruptive move.
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,” writes Christensen. 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? Perhaps earlier in your career the metric was money or fame, but now you want more autonomy, flexibility, authority, or to make a positive dent in the world. These require different metrics of success. Or as social media expert Liz Strauss has said, “It’s not possible for the world to hold a meeting to decide your value. That decision is all yours.”
Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course
What Christensen found in his analysis of the disk drive industry (which is discussed in The Innovator’s Dilemma, is that 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. 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.
To say that my disruptive trajectory has been one straight shot up the y-axis of success would be wildly inaccurate. But it was a good decision; in fact, I see no other way. Perhaps you too are ready to disrupt yourself. Maybe your hand is forced by downsizing or new technologies are automating you right out of relevance. For most of you, however, I suspect the decision to make a dramatic disruption runs deeper than that. Like me, you may be looking to do more with your life. 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 greatly improve.
Author – Whitney Johnson Guest Post for 3Plus International www.3plusinternational.com
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