parenting

Will You Disrupt Yourself? Or Will You Be Disrupted?

Disruption: Our Subconscious Mind Knows When We Need One

Photo credit: Pete Longworth

Photo credit: Pete Longworth

Whitney Johnson knew she found something really useful in the book she was reading, The Innovator’s Dilemma, but she had no idea that it would change her perspective about her career and life trajectory.

She was in the middle of a major project, doing research on disruption in the telecom industry when she realized that the description of disruption as a business concept could easily be applied to personal growth and career.

That seed turned into a full sized tree over the next few years as she started to consider all the other traditionally labeled business concepts that could be applied to career and personal growth. The beauty of those concepts is that they could help not only explain where we are in terms of learning and development in a job, they could help people create a visual representation to help people apply those concepts to ultimately improve their productivity and engagement at work.

In our conversation, I discovered two things about Whitney that surprised me: She didn’t cook until recently, choosing to avoid the connection between “women’s work” and her professional image, and she is a musician. She is a classically trained pianist, but had given up piano after completing her music degree. Even more interesting to me than learning those things was learning that she had taken both up in the recent past, learning to cook (and enjoy it), and coming back to the piano through the discovery of a love and connection to Gospel music.

I had to mention my love for Gospel and Spiritual music, of course. I’m not a Christian, but I get chills up my spine when I hear people perform this music with passion and a depth of spirituality.

Our conversation took some wonderful twists and turns, from our relationships with our mothers and children, to career challenges related to boredom and a lack of dopamine boosts from learning something new.

One of my favorite parts of this conversation was an “ah ha” moment related to the challenges of parenting adult children, and trying to avoid letting our “advice monster” out in conversations with them.

To me, the most important concept in our conversation was that our brains crave learning new things. When we aren’t exploring something new, whatever that may mean, we are likely to find unproductive activities to satisfy that craving. Have you found yourself in a job that isn’t satisfying, and suddenly either you’ve been let go, or you notice more drama going on in your personal life? Whitney and I shared a theory that when we aren’t actively learning and satisfying our brain’s craving, we often sabotage ourselves in different areas of our lives.

In her book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney spends time exploring the S-curve (typically used to describe a business’s growth) as a visual representation of skill-building or the learning curve of a new job or career. When we reach the top of the S, we hit a plateau and either stay there for a while, or we jump onto a different S, usually having to start at the bottom again.

Because of our human need to learn new things, when we sit on top of that S-curve too long, we tend to get bored. In my case, that’s when I sabotage relationships and jobs. In Whitney’s case, that’s when she takes on new or renewed interest in creative outlets.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Whitney after more than five years of conversing through email and on LinkedIn. She was a major source of inspiration for me when I started blogging, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities she offered when she published one of my first posts on her website, and a follow up post a few years later.


Recognized as one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world (Thinkers50), Whitney Johnson is an expert on disruptive innovation and personal disruption; specifically, a framework which she codifies in the critically acclaimed book Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work and in her latest book Build an “A” Team: Play To Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve(Harvard Business Press, 2018). She is also the author of Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream

She developed her proprietary framework and diagnostics after having cofounded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen. This framework is complemented by a deep understanding of how executives create and destroy value, having spent nearly a decade as an Institutional Investor ranked equity analyst on Wall Street.

In addition to her work as a speaker and advisor, Whitney is one of Marshall Goldsmith's original cohort of 25 for the #100 Coaches Project, is a coach for Harvard Business School's Executive Education program, frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, is a Linkedin influencer, and hosts the weekly Disrupt Yourself Podcast. You can follow her on Twitter at @johnsonwhitney.

Your Words Have Impact When You Least Expect It

And Your Actions Will Carry Even More Weight

Sarah & Mom, Mt. Helena City Park

Sarah & Mom, Mt. Helena City Park

I have moments in conversations with my children that I think: “That was good! Where did that wisdom come from?” And in my mind, I’ve said something so perceptive, so wise, that my boys are sure to remember it and apply it.

That’s rarely the way it works. They remember some of the most ridiculous things I’ve said, and most of the time when they tell me something deep that I shared with them, I have no memory of the conversation.

When my mother came to visit our family recently, I took the opportunity to have this conversation with her: Do you remember telling me these wise things that I’ve written about in my blog? At the time you shared these words with me, did you think they would have life-long impact?

I loved this conversation, partly because it confirmed this generational commonality, that our children remember things we don’t remember. And more importantly, that they remember our actions, the values we demonstrated to them, with even more clarity.

In our conversation we mentioned a few things related to childbirth and breast feeding, and I promised to include links to explain. Mom mentioned meconium aspiration, and her activity in the early 70s with La Leche League.

Also in the conversation, we talked about the Jewish holiday called Purim, the cookies we make to celebrate that holiday, and the act of delivering a basket of those cookies and other treats anonymously to people.

Sarah and Mom, Helena Regional Airport

Sarah and Mom, Helena Regional Airport

Knowing that we think differently, and process information differently is critical to the health of our relationships, and talking through how we remember our family history helps clarify those differences. When I remember hard times, specific incidents that had impact on me, I vividly remember the people involved, and my feelings and experiences with those people. It turns out that when my mother remembers specific incidents that had big impact on her, she remembers her feelings about it, the emotions she experienced, not the specific people involved.

Having this conversation allowed me some insights in terms of her emotional response to things I say or struggles she experiences in her life. She simply processes things differently from how I process them, and there’s so much beauty in that difference.

Your Turn

Have you told people the impact they had on you? Do you share your memories with people, so they understand how much their actions meant to you? When you share these stories with people in your life, you have an incredible opportunity not only to be grateful, which has positive impact on your brain, and to thank people, but to see those same experiences through their eyes.

Stories of Outdoor Adventures Color Our Lives with Gratitude

Returning From an Adventure with No Toilet Paper Makes You Grateful for the Little Things

Stories of Outdoor Adventures Color Our Lives with Gratitude.png

Kevin Strauss wasn't born into a family that was outdoorsy. He didn't grow up in a place where it was common to hike for miles, or to go camping in the wilderness over the summer. But at some point in his life, he realized he wanted to reconnect with nature, to explore his adventurous nature and stretch out of his comfort zone. He did something he never thought he'd do, and that experience set him up for a future full of extreme outdoor adventures.

Your Comfort Zone-2.png

When we think about our lives and how we live each day, we have three concentric circles of our activities and behaviors. The innermost, smallest circle is our comfort zone, and most of us stay in there in the majority of our daily activities. The next circle is about double the size of the comfort zone, and that's our stretch zone. The majority of us spend about 5 percent of our time there on a daily basis. And then there's the huge, outermost circle - our "oh shit" zone. That's the place we avoid as much as possible, totally out of our control and beyond our imagination of our own capacity and drive.

When we take a leap like Kevin did, we stretch that comfort zone out a bit, but more importantly, we stretch our stretch zone out dramatically. What we thought we'd never do, suddenly becomes an option, a possibility.

Being in nature, really out there, beyond easy access to an escape route, we realize a) how little control we really have, and b) how little, in terms of "stuff" we need to survive. Being out there with no toilet, no toilet paper, and no access to prepared food leaves us with a complete understanding of exactly what is a necessity, and what is simply luxury.

Mount Helena City Park, Helena, Montana

Mount Helena City Park, Helena, Montana

That's when we can connect deeply with ourselves and the world around us. The best part of this kind of adventure is the return to "real" life, when we get to apply the lessons we learn on our adventures. We realize that gratitude changes our lives, improves our relationship with ourselves and others, and helps push us to try new things and set our priorities.

As promised in the podcast, here are a few resources for you, just in case you are inspired to step out of your comfort zone in an outdoor adventure:

  • Local REI and MeetUps often have trips for beginners, as well as classes

  • Backpacker.com is a great magazine to get you started and thinking about trips and gear

  • Backpackinglight.com has a plethora of articles, webinars, podcasts, etc.

  • Cottage shops for gear often have great articles and resources on their websites, as well as “real life” experiences. Gossamer Gear, Six Moon Designs, ULA, Mountain Laurel Designs, Zpacks. You won’t find this gear at REI or other major sporting goods stores, but you’ll learn about real gear that works.

And here's the other promised link to Kevin's blog post about toilet paper.

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Kevin Strauss is a 17-year, injury-free Ironman Triathlete and Coach. If you have any question or need help with your endurance events, including backpacking, or if you want to get started and run your first 5K and do it right, visit his website. Learn more about Kevin and his products, Family eJournal and Corporate eJournal, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Connect Deeply Through Travel and Adventure

What traveling teaches us is how to be resourceful, and that we have a choice in how we react to obstacles and challenges. When we're traveling, we're really at the mercy of the people around us, the weather, and all kinds of things over which we have no control. But what we can control is our choice to see it as part of the adventure, and to make the best of whatever we're faced with.

We Can Choose How Our Stories Define Us

She could easily have given up all of her power, her love, her compassion. As a matter of fact, she tried to when she was 25. As she woke in the hospital after a suicide attempt, her dad (she was finally adopted by a loving family), who was not a particularly affectionate person, but who demonstrated love in other ways, was there, patting her hand. The look on his face said it all: He was disappointed, hurt, heartbroken at Ashley's choice to leave him and this world.