Whitney Johnson’s Secrets to Disrupting Your Career

When you find something that works, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. But the most successful startups aren’t the ones that find a recipe for success and stick with it–they’re the ones that constantly aspire for more, iterating and innovating in powerful new directions that leverage their core capabilities to disrupt stale models.

According to Johnson, personal disruption is “the act of using a practice employed by companies—wherein a product deemed inferior by the market leader eventually upends the industry—and applying it to you as an individual.” Her concept of disruptive innovation is rooted in the S-curve (see image below), with three distinct parts: competence (gaining your footing), confidence (thriving), and mastery (comfort).

Whitney Johnson_Disrupt Yourself

The S-curve of disruptive innovation

Disruption is Whitney Johnson’s bread and butter. As an Author, Speaker, Advisor, and one of the 50 Top Management Thinkers of the World, she knows what it takes to harness the power of disruptive innovation to make amazing things happen. In November, Johnson joined us for Intelligent.ly EMERGE, a one-day leadership workshop designed to help individual contributors become effective influencers, for powerful keynote about investing in continuous innovation.

We caught up with Johnson to tap into her knowledge about how to stay fresh:

You’ve said that when things become easy and you’re not feeling challenged or learning new things, it’s time to jump to a new curve. Do you have advice on how to know WHAT to jump to?

Analyze how what you do well maps to what others want done by answering:

  1. Are there stakeholders whose needs are not being met? What are they?
  2. Are there a lot of people trying meet those needs (e.g. 50 people applying for a job), or has there ever been a job posting (e.g you’d create a job) for a need that isn’t being met?
  3. Does this need you want to meet leverage your distinctiveness (what you do remarkably, uniquely well)? As in, it’s so easy for you, you don’t value it because it’s as natural as breathing?

The whole point of disruption is to move up the y-axis of success over the x-axis of time. When you disrupt yourself you are making the conscious decision to move down the y-axis, on the premise that the slope of your next curve will be even steeper, leading to another period of rapid growth.

Jumping from secretary to investment banker to analyst to investor had to have been daunting. How did you channel fear to help you grow vs. letting it become a constraint?

It’s pretty easy to talk about this after the fact. So, what I’m about to say makes these moves sound much tidier than they were. That said––A constraint simply defined is something that you bump up against, and in bumping, you get information. Like a skateboarder. They learn quickly because they receive fast and useful feedback. Fear is typically characterized as a foe, but it’s also a friend. Follow your fear and you’ll know what matters to you. In this way, rather than a check on your progress, it becomes a tool of creating you.

Regarding pursuing market risks (vs. competitive risks) – is this possible to do inside an established company? How can individuals pioneer a new idea effectively?

Even inside of a large company there are ideas people haven’t had and projects people don’t want to take on. These are opportunities for taking on market risk. Think about Intuit’s Fasal. When they wanted to make a difference in India there were lots of routes Intuit could have taken. Instead they sent three engineers to rural India for three weeks and said figure something out.

One day during a torrential downpour that found themselves at a bus stop with local farmers. As they chatted they discovered the farmers didn’t have access to commodity prices. Having found a problem to solve, they could have now thrown a lot of money at it. But they didn’t. They just started manually texting price and buyer information, iterating their way to a solution. Notice how this process was so low-cost, so low-risk, so where -no-one -else-was-playing, the odds of it getting quashed, were practically zero.

Because Intuit encouraged its people to play where no one else was, which also included very few resources––until they knew they had something that worked––today there is a service known as Fasal, a sophisticated text-messaged based platform, helping farmers get the best price. Over 2 million users who enjoy more than 20% increase in their bottom line.

Boston has an “Innovation District,” and is increasingly becoming known as a leading city for innovation. Do you think the word “innovation” is becoming overused? What do you want people to understand about the meaning at its root?

In my experience, when someone uses the word innovation, they are signaling they want to try something new. Wanting to improve, to do better and be better, is always good. Always. Where I think we get tripped up is when you and I attach different meanings to this word.

My definition? Innovation is about moving from stuck to unstuck. There are lots of ways to do that. The frameworks of disruption are one. Which is why I wrote Disrupt Yourself. I wanted to convey that companies don’t disrupt, people do. Here’s how. In 7 steps. My hope is this: That I have made a strong enough case around the ‘how’ that we can move forward together on the ‘do’.

Ready to invest in developing innovative leaders inside your company? Enroll in the next Intelligent.ly EMERGE workshop on March 9th!

4 Ways to Drive
Your Career Forward

Innovative startups all have one thing in common – they’re disruptive. Whether they’re revolutionizing inbound marketing like HubSpot, improving the way fundraisers connect with their donors like EverTrue, or pioneering cloud security like Carbonite, Boston-based companies are practicing disruptive innovation now more than ever.

Disruption should be Whitney Johnson’s middle name. Author, speaker, advisor, and one of the 50 Top Management Thinkers of the World, she is a leading force is conveying the power of disruption to transform people and companies. On November 12th, Johnson joined Intelligent.ly EMERGE, a one-day leadership workshop designed to help individual contributors become effective influencers. Through a powerful talk delivered to some of Boston’s top companies, she reminded the group that behind every great company are innovative leaders who turning new ideas into reality.

When she left Wall Street at the height of her career, everyone thought Johnson crazy to abandon prestige and stability, in favor of a new, more emotionally fulfilling challenge. It certainly wasn’t the usual corporate trajectory; but, it was a disruptive course, that would fulfill this need.

Her theory of disruptive innovation is simple: the most successful innovations are those that create new markets. They play where no one else is playing…yet.

We asked emerging leaders who attended the EMERGE workshop what they took away from Johnson’s talk, and how they (and you!) can put them into action:

Sam Diters_EverTrue Exploit Your Superpower
Sam Diters, Strategic Customer Success Manager, EverTrue
It’s important to understand your strengths and take calculated risks. We can all fall victim to complacency. Whitney helped remind me that striving to grow through challenging myself is one of the only ways to reach my ultimate goals.”

 

Push Yourself Beyond Comfortable LimitsLauren Stenstream_Carbonite
Lauren Stenstream, Senior Accountant, Carbonite
The theory that both failure and lack of fulfillment in your career can be driving forces for innovation and success inspired me. Focusing in on areas where I can provide the most value has been critical in strategically planning my future.”

 

Kate Connors_MetisTake a Risk – A Market Risk
Kate Connors, Senior Account Executive, Metis Communications
Whitney Johnson not only challenged me to be disruptive in my career, but also to help my clients become more disruptive in their industries. I’m challenging myself to find industry needs that aren’t being filled and help my clients address them with a tone and approach tailored to reach the members of their audiences.”

 

Amanda Iglesias_HubSpotFind your Other Half
Amanda Iglesias, Product Manager, HubSpot
“In order to accelerate the progress of some of the projects I manage, I am evaluating them to determine what skills are required to make them successful. My goal is to identify folks who I partner with across our business who bring other strengths to the table.”

Want more strong insights from Whitney Johnson? Stay tuned for the release of her keynote!

Ready to help your team become effective influencers who drive innovation? Send them to the next EMERGE workshop on March 9th, and follow us on Twitter for a daily dose of leadership inspiration.

Ready. Set. Change!

Kristen Yerardi- WordStreamCompanies are like kids. They grow, they get messy, they change, they make you laugh, and cry. Sometimes, all at the same time. Like kids, companies don’t stay the same, and eventually you just have to accept and embrace that. Kristen Yerardi, VP of Customer Success at WordStream, has grown her department from 4 to 45 since joining the founding executive team in 2010. Throughout her 15-plus years experience providing customers with excellence, Kristen has led teams of all shapes and sizes, so we asked her to join Exchange to share about HOW to embrace organizational change.

Spoiler alert: it’s all about adapting and evolving!

Listen, listen, and listen some more:

Kristen helps her team grow by showing empathy, sharing her personal experiences, and letting them learn from her mistakes. WordStream is known for its culture of transparency, so Kristen encourages each of her team members to be completely honest with her. She believes that a leader’s most crucial responsibility is listening in order to help the team make the best decisions. Have a “whatever happens within these four walls stays here” philosophy and allow your team to share openly what they need from you to do their jobs better.

Pass the baton:

You can never have too many direct reports, right? Turns out, you can from Kristen’s experience. She’s observed that truly effective  leaders can only meaningfully coach and support six to eight people at once. As your team grows, scale your leadership style by choosing your second-in-command, giving them a couple direct reports of their own so you can delegate more. Kristen takes the time to empower her team to be self-sufficient, providing them with growth opportunities that lead to higher levels of employee retention.

Go above and beyond:

Kristen’s job is to help WordStream grow, and that means growing with the company herself. To continue learning, Kristen says she constantly surrounds herself with people she can learn from, whether it be through an online forum (like LinkedIn), or by cultivating new mentor relationships with people she meets in the community. It’s all about  taking advantage of every opportunity you have to stretch your skills (and network)!

WordStreamWordStream Inc. is a provider of software and services that help search marketers maximize the performance of their PPC and SEO campaigns, driving traffic, leads, and sales for lower costs. Our easy-to-use PPC management software facilitates more effective paid search campaigns by increasing relevance and Quality Scores in Google AdWords, automating proven best practices, and delivering expert-level results in a fraction of the time.

HubSpot’s Katie Burke on: Beyoncé, Pet Rocks, & Storytelling

Leadership + Libations: Katie Burke

Photo courtesy of @worldwidewolfe

Before making her way to PR, it only took six weeks for Katie Burke to realize that consulting wasn’t for her. A master of storytelling, Katie channeled her inner Olivia Pope early in her career at a political communications firm. She got her MBA at Sloan, then made the jump to PR at HubSpot, before recently transitioning to a new role as the company’s Director of Talent & Culture. From preparing for HubSpot’s IPO to navigating its tremendous growth, Katie is adept at swiftly adapting to change to rally people in the right direction.

We joined forces with Young Women in Digital to sit down with Katie for a fireside chat with one goal in mind: to tackle a topic we all need help with – learning how to tell compelling stories. Katie showed us how to craft our stories in a clear, concise way, own its execution, and write our own endings.

As one person listening in nicely put it, Katie is, “the most quotable person to walk the planet.” So, rather than try to summarize our experience, here are some Katie’s most memorable quotes:

Own your Beyoncé walk, and have the confidence of Queen Bey herself.

  • “Speak in statements, not apologetic questions.”
  • “Use actions to show your stakeholders you are hungry to grow.”
  • “You don’t get to places in your career by making safe bets.”

Do your homework. Know the story you want to tell.

  • “Part of storytelling is believing you can write a different ending than those before you, and being willing to write that narrative yourself.”
  • “When communicating your ideas, speak in ‘we,’ not ‘I,’ to show that your idea provides value to the company’s best interest.”
  • “Prepare for each stakeholder’s ‘pet rock’ (i.e. special interest), and know how to address that particular perspective.”
Katie Burke

Photo Courtesy of @MsChristinaCF

Plan your approach.

  • “Think, speak, and sell in headlines. Is your idea attention grabbing? If not, think bigger about what you’re pitching.”
  • “Have a 10-slide deck. If you’re presenting your slides for the first time at a meeting, you’re doing it wrong. Rehearse! Ask for feedback early and get buy-in first from the people you need to move the project forward.”
  • “Understand why your story matters to the business and how to engage your stakeholders. If your presentation doesn’t clarify the benefits to the company, you need to revisit your approach.”
  • “Take the time, several days beforehand, to get dissenters’ buy-in and feedback; address their concerns before you pitch, then tailor your approach for them for the actual presentation.”
  • “If you have a diverse audience, pick a high-level point that everyone will be able to buy into and rally around.”
  • “Show a bias for action.”

Follow up!

  • “The next day, follow up with an email that directly states outcomes, sets expectations, and asks for validation. Then run with it.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to be specific about what you need to execute your plan.”

Invest in your own professional growth.

  • “Lead by being open to feedback and continuous improvement.”
  • “Find one thing you can do that makes you indispensable to your team and make your perspective valuable through your actions.”

REPEAT.

10 Secrets to Great Leadership from Diane Hessan

Image: Diane Hessan, Startup InstituteAfter recently leaving her 13-year gig as Communispace CEO, Diane Hessan stepped into a new role as CEO of Startup Institute, a Boston-based company dedicated to helping people transform their careers and find jobs they love. There are few CEOs as charismatic and candid as Diane, so it’s no surprise that she is a stellar leader, committed to developing top talent in Boston’s startup community.

Last Tuesday night, Diane joined Intelligent.ly’s Abbie Waite for a fireside chat about leadership with 125+ members of our community. The audience was astounded by Diane’s openness—it was like chatting with an old friend about how she casually became CEO of an international organization. In spite of immense success, Diane maintains her humility, paying forward the wisdom she’s gathered over her remarkable career. Here are her top 10 secrets to great leadership:

1. Build your A-Team: From Diane’s experience, “A-players” transform teams and help take them to the next level. Diane supports her team by spending hours interviewing key players to ensure they’re a “fit,” build rapport, and learn what matters to them.

2. Being honest ≄ being mean: Leadership is about being direct and objective. Sometimes you need to have difficult conversations for the good of the company, but it doesn’t have to be mean. People value the truth, especially when it helps them in the long run.

3. There’s no such thing as, “I’m not a leader yet:” You can be a leader at any level. Leadership is more about empowering others to lead than getting them to follow.

4. Serendipity: Most of your life is the product of a few “aha” moments. Diane keeps these tucked away and remembered, and they shape how she leads her team.

Image: Abbie Waite, Diane Hessan5. Listen more than you speak: For her first month at Startup Institute, Diane did almost nothing but listen. She asked each team in the organization about their unique challenges, then began to formulate solutions.

6. You can’t do it all: You may be a leader, but that doesn’t mean you can do everything well. Instead, choose a few things you can do really well to impact your team, and focus on that!

7. Don’t keep secrets: Diane believes in being open and transparent with her team. Two weeks into her new CEO position, she laid out all the numbers for her team, a shocking and unprecedented move. This small action went a long way in helping her team understand how they contribute, building trust, and reducing anxiety.

8. Keep the conversation going: Leadership is all about having a continued conversation, and you never stop trying to raise the bar. Ask your team, “if you could wave a magic wand, what would this team be doing?” and get everyone involved in the vision.

9. You’re leading PEOPLE: Well, duh. But we truly can’t overstate this enough. Everyone’s different, and human beings want to know that they matter and that you’re thinking of them. They need to know what the team vision is and that it’s okay to screw up sometimes.

10. Embrace question marks: In rapidly growing organizations, scaling leadership is just as important as scaling the company itself. This oftentimes means not knowing all the answers, but rather having a diverse team who you can trust to have the answers you don’t have.

Want more great leadership pointers like these? Attend our next Leadership + Libations event OR learn more about Intelligent.ly Exchange!