10 daring thinkers who defied the rules

Whitney Johnson, innovation expert and author

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5. Disrupt yourself

Whitney Johnson
Innovation expert and author

The theory of disruption, defined by innovation expert Clayton Christensen in the 1990s, predicts that firms seeking growth via new markets instead of established ones are six times more likely to succeed and the revenue opportunity is 20 times greater. 

Consider these examples: Toyota disrupted GM, Netflix disrupted Blockbuster, Airbnb is disrupting hotels. The statistics and the evidence tell us it’s time we became comfortable with disruption. 

Author and former Wall Street investment banker Whitney Johnson says the disruptive momentum must come from within the individual.

“The best way to drive corporate disruption is through personal disruption,” she says. 

How do you disrupt yourself? Johnson says that whenever you start something new, that is an opportunity for disruption. 

“The first accelerant of personal disruption is to take the right risks,” she says.

“When change comes, we batten down the hatches; we do more of what we have been doing. If you have the courage to do what you haven’t been doing, a few small changes can break your hold on the past just enough to create space for something new and different.”

Johnson urges professionals to harness the power of disruption to propel themselves. She concedes that sometimes disruption can feel risky – even “scary and lonely” – and the human tendency is to fear failure. 

“Failure can elicit tremendous shame,” she says. “We’re not only embarrassed, we’re heartbroken. It’s critical to grieve. You can then ditch the shame and choose success.”   

Johnson’s 7 steps to mastering personal disruption

  1. Take on market risk.
  2. Play to your strengths.
  3. Embrace and even create your constraints.
  4. Battle entitlement.
  5. Step back in order to grow.
  6. Learn to fail but choose success.
  7. Be driven by discovery and learning.