SharpAlice Book Summary & Review:

“Disruption” has become synonymous with the internet and technology boom of the last decade. Netflix disrupted the market for video rentals and resulted in the demise of Blockbusters. Amazon disrupted book selling and as a result Barnes&Nobles toppled from its market leading perch and is still struggling to survive in today’s new context. Established companies now all chase innovation in order to avoid the same fate. As the saying goes,”It is better to disrupt, then to be disrupted”.

Whitney Johnson’s book, “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work“, exhorts us to take these principles of disruption theory and apply them to ourselves in order to overhaul our careers and create a new phase of personal super-growth and career success. Like with businesses, we might otherwise find ourselfves “disrupted” and pushed off our career curve before we have a chance to do anything about it.

This is not a book that just encourages us to “dare greatly and do it anyway”. Instead the book leverages the logical thinking of disruption theory to give us a very clear 7-step roadmap on how to disrupt ourselves by helping us understand

  1. what the criteria are to assess which are the right opportunities to pursue
  2. how to play to our distinctive strengths
  3. why constraints on our efforts to disrupt ourselves are a good thing, and when managed appropriately will actually help us be more successful
  4. how to spot and counter the ever lurking danger of entitlement that can lead to complacency in how we manage our performance
  5. why disrupting ourselves to further our career, sometimes first requires us to take a step back or sideways
  6. that we should plan to fail as we try and disrupt ourselves
  7. how discovery is key to succeeding on a disruptive path

Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work is a quick read – just 128 pages. However, to really benefit from it we do suggest you take some reflection time after each of the 7 chapters to work out how this might apply to you.

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Chapter 1: Take the Right Risks” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]The first step when you make a decision to start something new, Whitney Johnson points out, is to figure out “What is it that I am trying to accomplish”. What problem or need do you specifically want to solve – either as an employee for a business or by starting a new business yourself. And then, she explains, the trick is to specialize your focus in such a way that you play where no-one else is playing. For example, when Whitney Johnson, in her earlier career on Wall Street, decided to change from an investment banking sales role to an equity analyst role, she decided to focus on covering media companies in Latin America, which was at the time a sector no other equity analyst in her company was focusing on.

Johnson helps us understand the theory behind this approach by explaining the difference between competitive risk and market risk and why market risk, though it may feel riskier, will yield a bigger reward if you succeed. In short: If you play where no one else plays, you are facing market risk (as you don’t know IF there is any demand) but if there is, then the whole market is yours for the taking.

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Chapter 2: Play to Your Distinctive Strengths” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]Another key ingredient to successfully disrupt yourself is to identify what your distinctive strengths are – i.e., what do you do particularly well that others in your sphere don’t? If you have not yet identified your strengths, as discussed in our previous book summary & review about strength-based leadership, then Whitney Johnson provides 6 interesting questions in this chapter to reflect on to help you surface your strengths
Once you know your distinctive strength(s) and how to apply them to solve an unmet need as per the criteria in chapter 1, then you have got the beginnings of a potentially successful approach to disrupt yourself.
[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Chapter 3: Embrace Constraints” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]Many of us often talk ourselves out of pursuing new opportunities by claiming all kinds of restraints: We don’t have the time, the contacts, the knowledge, the money etc. However, constraints can actually be a good thing and help us succeed Whitney Johnson shows us. For example, not having the knowledge allows you to approach problems in a new, fresh way; Not having the money to pay for continuing education or to start a business may lead you to build relationships with key people who you can learn from on the job or who are willing to invest in you; Not having much time outside your current job forces you to be highly efficient and thus carefully map out what the critical stepping stones are to achieve your goal – saving you from wasting time (and money) on things that do not help you progress further to your goal. She also includes a great summary of the six-step approach to transforming a constraint into something useful, as described by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden in their book “A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business

(This is definitely one of our favorite chapters in the book as it is very actionable. As we always read with a highlighter in our hand, this chapter ended up with a high density of highlights)

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Chapter 4: Battle Entitlement, the Innovation Killer” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]This chapter may feel a little esoteric, but is actually critical as entitlement poses one of the biggest threats to our growth.

We fail to see the need for change and growth because
• we believe we know better because of our education or experience (intellectual entitlement);
• we believe we have earned it because of our efforts and sacrifices (emotional entitlement);
• we believe our team/company/etc understands our external context inside out. (cultural entitlement)

Whitney Johnson explains each of these mindsets and how we can protect ourselves from getting trapped by each of them. For example, to counter cultural entitlement, which prevents us from looking at our world outside our company’s/country’s/family’s/circle of friends’ culture, she suggests opening up our social networks. “The more closed your network,” Whitney Johnson explains, “the more you hear the same ideas over and again, reaffirming what you already believe, while the more open your network, the more exposed you are to new ideas.” To counter intellectual entitlement she suggests that we actively seek out dissenting voices and to counter emotional entitlement she advices us to practice gratitude.

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Chapter 5: Step Down, Back, or Sideways to Grow” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]Many of us forget that in nature, there is a “down” before there can be an “up”. For example, you have to crouch down before you jump up off the diving board. Similarly, if we seek to disrupt ourselves in order to achieve new career growth, sometimes we need to consider a sideways, backward, or downward move to create a slingshot up your personal growth curve.

In this chapter Whitney Johnson explores several examples of people who successfully navigated the hard choice to lose something, like money or status, to win something bigger and better. Particularly powerful in this chapter is the following quote from the essay “Shedding My Skin” by Rebecca Jackson:

“ Have you ever let go of something that simultaneously protects and strangles you; something that both defines you, but also suffocates your evolution? Just like a snake shedding its skin, you have to lose something critical to grow, leaving you vulnerable an exposed in the process.”

To read Rebecca Jackson’s full essay click here

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Chapter 6: Give Failure Its Due” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]In this chapter Whitney Johnson addresses both the negatives effects of the shame that comes with failure as well as the actual necessity of failure to help you discover the new path to success. We in particular like how Whitney Johnson closes the chapter with the following words: “As you disrupt yourself and sometimes struggle up the steep slope of a new learning curve, remember that failure may be your companion at times. If you welcome failure as a guide and teacher, you’re more likely to find your way to success.”[/textbox]
[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Chapter 7: Be Driven by Discovery” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]As you are pursuing new unknown paths, you don’t have knowledge of the past to help you predict the future. This is why, Whitney Johnson explains, you need a discovery-driven planning approach for your career, which means basically that you make a rough plan based on where you want to get to. You then take a step forward, gather feedback and adapt your next step based on what you now know. Repeat.
[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Link to the Book” icon_background_color=”#fa8004″ heading_color=”#fa8004″]For a link to the book click here: Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work