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 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.

Leaders love feedback

SpeakerSpotlight

Cory von WallensteinIntelligent.ly Exchange’s fifth cohort kicked off with a bang when our partner, Cory von Wallenstein arrived as our first guest speaker last week. Cory was an instrumental leader at Dyn for six years, and recently launched a new startup, Adored, a customer loyalty app that’s revolutionizing the mobile rewards experience. Cory’s aptitude for embracing failure as a learning experience has helped him to become a model leader. The sixty minutes we had with him flew by, so here’s his advice in a nutshell:

Enjoy failing, enjoy learning: Cory’s humility in spite of his success stems from his failures. Instead of shying away from his mistakes, Cory has embraced them, leveraging what he’s learned to become a stronger and more impactful leader. You may be wondering why this guy is so gung-ho about failure. The answer’s simple—feedback. After every conversation with his team, Cory requests feedback so he can become the best version of himself, both personally and professionally. Rather than playing the blame game, he points the finger inward and asks himself how he can do better by his organization and his team.

CVW Fireside ChatI’m too busy” is the ultimate fallacy: According to this HBR article, the majority of managers “squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities.” Leading is all about the people, Cory says, so it is a leader’s job to engage the team—no matter how busy they are. This means being crystal clear about what the priorities are, understanding what motivates each team member and how they define success, and not allowing procrastination or distraction to get in the way. Aligning their team with high-priority goals and helping each person understand how their role connects to the shared vision is the most important role effective managers share. Cory urges leaders to make time to discuss with each person their version of success and concrete steps they can take to achieve their goals.

And his actionable advice that everyone can do tomorrow to be a more effective leader?: “Have an impromptu 1:1 conversation with a team member about what drives them and how they define success. Open the door to more dialogue.”