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!

Quick Guide:
Owning Your Leadership Role

Dave McLaughlin WeWorkLeaders face all kinds of inner conflicts: projecting confidence without appearing arrogant; being humble yet strong; being agile, but firm in their vision. Exceptional leaders are masters of this balancing act, as WeWork City Lead, Dave McLaughlin showed us during a recent Intelligent.ly Exchange session.

Before joining the WeWork team in May, Dave was the CEO and Co-Founder of Vsnap, a video messaging system for sales reps who need a quick and effective way to create face time with their customers from afar. Adding to his list of impressively original professional journey, Dave was also Marketing  Director for Mayor Menino, and Writer of the feature film “Southie,” starring Rose McGowan, Amanda Peet, Donnie Wahlberg, and Will Arnett. Besides having a genuine interest in how his journey unfolded, we’d also heard that “Dave is the best manager” from a handful of friends, so we were anxious to sit down with him to learn how he supports the success of his team.

Here’s what we learned from Dave about how to build teams effectively:

Have Humility…And Bulletproof Confidence

Successful leaders are open to the opinions of others, and incorporate feedback to complement and enhance their own ideas. Be open to understanding (and asking for) your team’s perspectives, but when push comes to shove, great leaders don’t shy away from making executive decisions. Leaders need to have the confidence to be bulletproof under fire, in order to maintain their stakeholders’ trust and make the best decisions for their teams in the long run.

Here are three things to consider when asking for feedback from your team:

  • Carve out time to sit down with your team to ensure that they understand your values, inspiring trust for open communication
  • Incorporate a touchpoint to gather feedback during the process of developing new ideas. Encourage the team to speak up, and if need be, challenge you, to get the best possible results
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way of learning new things.

Know Your Team- Well Enough to Appeal to THEIR Interests:

Your leadership narrative for your team needs to be authentic; if you want people to follow, you’ve got to believe in where you’re headed. Ask your team lots of questions to get them to affirm what they believe in and care about, and use this as leverage when forming the vision. When the whole team can own the vision, you’ll be more cohesive, productive, and proud of your outcomes. Want to hone your authentic leadership skills to learn how it relates to influence and gaining buy-in from others? Enroll in EMERGE.

Be clear and intentional with how you create culture:

Company culture consists of more than grabbing drinks with your team after work. Culture begins with  a set of explicitly stated values. Having clear values is one of the most pragmatic things you can do. These values give employees a roadmap for navigating tense situations when they do arrive, and help create cohesiveness throughout the organization. Leaders should be sure to circulate values within everyday conversations so they become natural touchpoints.

Want one actionable piece of advice you can implement today? Ask yourself what is the thing that, when you’re doing, you lose track of time? That’s what you’re meant to be doing, so be great at it.

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.

4 Ways Leaders Can Be Learners

SpeakerSpotlight

David Chang Image

You know you can improve as a leader, but you don’t know exactly what you should be doing differently. Sound familiar? David Chang popped into a recent Intelligent.ly Exchange session to share his advice around strategies leaders can adopt to invest in effective lifelong learning. .

Chang was the Chief Operating Officer of the PayPal Media Network, co-founder and VP of Marketing at Mobicious, and Director of Product Marketing at m-Qube, Inc. He has navigated the growth of rapidly scaling companies through acquisition to integration and beyond, and it’s safe to say he knows how to make team  members feel valued. Now, he’s laying the groundwork for his next challenge as an Entrepreneur & Angel Investor.

According to Chang, you should approach  developing your team as if they are replacing you, by empowering, coaching, and creating opportunities for them to grow into leaders in their own right. Beyond his success on paper, spending an hour with Chang leaves you with a strong sense of his style as an inspiring leader and mentor, and his authentic commitment to embracing feedback.

Know Your Team

As a manager, it’s essential to get the right people on your team. This requires you to not only understand how to identify people’s skills, but also see when a person has the will to learn skills that can be taught. Assembling the team is only the first step. To keep each team member engaged, challenged, and committed to your team, you must take the time to understand what motivates them individually.

Develop Your EQDavid Chang

A high level of emotional intelligence will help you objectively understand and harness feedback to your advantage by allowing you to separate your feelings from the comments you receive. Chang has worked hard to sharpen his EQ, and admits that although some opinions might sting a little, they will help you be more effective in the long run.

Here’s how:

  1. Ask for feedback
  2. Take time to objectively understand others’ perceptions of your behaviors
  3. Acknowledge your shortcomings, celebrate your strengths
  4. Say thank you
  5. Make plans for growth/improvement
  6. Repeat

Support Down, Share Up

Chang continues to learn as a leader by asking for feedback from his team, peers, and stakeholders at every level. Valuable feedback can come from teaching and supporting your direct reports’ success, as well as sharing with your managers how they can support you. Don’t be afraid to share what you need to be successful.

Take Action

When asked for a piece of actionable advice we can all put to use ASAP, Chang kept it simple: take a step back and open your eyes to others’ perceptions of your behaviors. Taking the blinders off can go a long way.

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.