Would You Disrupt Yourself?

A former coworker and a friend of mind got me the book, “disrupt yourself” as a farewell gift after my departure from the firm we were working for. After reading the book on the plane on my way to the office of the new job, New York, I must say it was one of the best books i have read in a long time and the timing couldn’t be better. After all, the book was about disrupting one’s self before disrupting others.

The book written by Whitney Johnson, president and cofounder of Rose Park Advisor’s Disruptive Innovation Fund, explores disruption in a unique way and places the reader in the drive seat to not only imagine how to make a disruptive move but also understand the frameworks for innovation and disruption.

Before i dive in to my key takeaways from the book let us first understand what “disruption” means. The business definition of the term was first introduced by Clayton Christensen, Whitney Johnson’s cofounder of the Rose Park Advisor’s Disruptive Innovation Fund and author of the Innovator’s Dilemma book. In that book, Christensen introduced the concept of “disruptive innovation” which he termed it as a situation in which a new innovation leads to the transformation of a market or sector by making products and services simpler, more affordable and accessible. So based on that, what does ‘self disruption’ or ‘disrupting yourself’ mean? Self disruption can be defined us a phenomenon in which changes in your personal habits, e.g. ways of approaching or doing things, lead to your personal growth enabling you to do things faster, easier and better.

Whitney Johnson expanded those definitions and introduced in her book disruption from the perspective of personal growth and strives to explain how to apply disruptive innovation lessons to increase one’s productivity, happiness and creativity.

Key points that resonated with me in the book include:

Turn “stumbling blocks” into “stepping stones”

According to Whitney, constraints are good, unavoidable and provide us a structure to get organized enabling us to stay focused and ignore the chaos in this fast moving world. Common constraints in today’s business environments are money, knowledge and time.

All of us in our everyday life face constraints and there is no one point we have enough of everything hence the need to find ways to live with constraints.

Citing the book, a beautiful constraint by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden, Whitney outlines six-step for “transforming a constraint to something useful”. Imagine the magnititude of constraints you would face if you wanted to work at google as a programer and you had no programming skills.

  1. Rather than going into a denial mode and adopting a victim mindset, e.g. saying there is no way i can get a job at google, strive to neutralize the constraint and recognize it as a catalyst for a better solution. Consider the constraint as a challenge and dare yourself to overcome that challenge. Would you challenge yourself to get a job at google?
  2. Define what is important to you personally and professionally then examine how you would approach the constraint situation again. What is your typical approach? How could it be different considering what is important to you.
  3. Ask propelling questions that lead to bold ambitions. For example, how can i get hired at google as a programmer when i don’t have any programming skills. The ambition in the example is getting hired at google while the constraint is you not having programming skills. By asking this kind of questions, you can easily picture the bold ambition.
  4. Instead of saying “i can’t, because” say “I can, if”. Try to understand and define the conditions that can make your ambitions possible. For the example above, instead of saying I can’t work at google, say I can if i learn programming.
  5. Find ways to access resources you don’t have. Conduct research and reach out to others.
  6. Link your purpose, why this matters, to the need to transform the constraint. Think about your beliefs, values, fears, needs and aspirations that can motivate you to change the constraint to something useful.

The importance of failure

I believe we have all experienced failure once in our life time. Things not going the way you wanted or even simply not getting the expected results. Well, get used to that as personal disruption which is all about “walking into the unknown” exposes you to the risk of failure. Whitney provides five key tips to dealing with failure.

  1. Be aware that it is not a matter of if you will fail, but when. Anticipate failure and see it as a learning opportunity.
  2. Acknowledge failure and talk about it with people you trust.
  3. Learn from failure and incorporate lesson’s learnt to your next plan. The lean start up is based on this principle.
  4. Lastly, know when it is time to quit. Some times, may be it is better to set new goals.

Adopt discovery-driven planning instead of traditional planning methods 

In the last chapter of the book, Whitney introduces this fascinating concept of discovery-driven planing. She asserts that with discovery-driven planning, “you begin with premise that little is known and much is assumed”. The goal of this kind of plan, unlike the traditional plan, is to answer the question, “what has to prove true for my plan to work”. The following are key ingredients in discovery-driven planning.

  1. Know your why, the purpose, that makes you get up every morning. Whitney argues that, “once you know your why, there are lots of roads that will take you there”.
  2. Start with the end goal in mind. Discovery-driven planning is all about determining what you need to accomplish your goal and what you are willing to give up for that goal.
  3. Jot down your assumptions and put them to the test in every phase of the journey.
  4. Identify milestones and be prepared to make course corrections based on learnings.

Finally, I would say that in life you would need to define what is important to you, take the rights risks, innovate and learn from failure. All that would only be possible if you disrupt yourself and abandon old habits.

Now, would you disrupt yourself?

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