Taking a step backwards or sideways is one of the best ways to disrupt yourself and consequently transform your life. Whitney Johnson's first book, Dare, Dream, Do, helped people rethink how to fundamentally disrupt their own personal status quo. Here, she took some time to explain her concept of "Disrupt Yourself" in more depth.

Whitney, how would you summarize the principles embedded in "Disrupt Yourself"?

They are grounded in the theory of disruptive innovation developed by Harvard's Clayton Christensen. In brief, a disruptive innovation is a low end (or new market) innovation that eventually upends an industry. Disrupters secure a foothold at the low end of the market (think Amazon in the 1990s) and, in the pursuit of profit (the raison d'être of business), gradually produce higher performing, high margin products.

Established competitors to Amazon, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, could aggressively counter an attack by a low-end disrupter, but they don't because it doesn't make financial sense. Their thinking process is, "Why defend our least profitable products when we ourselves could move upmarket?" That is, until it does make sense--but by then it's too late.

What I've found over the past 10 years of applying the frameworks of disruption to innovation and investing is that these principles also apply to individuals! Meaning, companies don't just disrupt, people do as well. If individuals can learn to ride the waves of the learning involved in disruption, then they will have a competitive advantage.

What can people apply from this "Disrupt Yourself" concept as they begin this new year of 2015 and make resolutions?

In order to disrupt, you may need to take a step backwards or sideways. It could mean you need to quit your current job, but not necessarily. One great example of this is Dave Blakely. He started his career at the design consultancy IDEO as an engineer. He could have worked his way up to manage technical staff, but instead volunteered to become a project manager. While many of his engineering colleagues dismissed this as an escape route from the rigor of engineering, by taking this step back, Blakely began to climb a new ladder, and today he is the head of technology strategy at IDEO.

When you consider disruption, if your current stakeholders (colleagues and even loved ones) question your sanity, then you'll know that you are taking a step back. If you take the right step back, you will eventually intersect with where you want to go--sideways or backwards sometimes turns into a slingshot.

I like that visual of a slingshot! How can disrupting yourself personally have a transformative effect on your business?

A low-end disruption involves less money and/or prestige. A new market disruption requires you to play where others aren't, which can be lonely. Both imply a short-term loss of standing.

If you are willing to do this personally, where the stakes are high for your ego, you are much more likely to pivot or jump to the low end in a business. Disruption is a skill set. It can be learned and is broadly applicable.

So--what are you doing in this new year to disrupt yourself?

On the business front, I am working with In Your Corner, an online coaching and therapy consultancy. Historically, I have done coaching on my own. That is a higher end, higher margin way to run a coaching business, but it is less scalable. By exploring the lower margin realm of this business, I'm excited to see what happens in terms of scalability--because I love to coach!

Personally, I have committed to not eat any refined sugar for the first 31 days of 2015. I love sugar. But my doctor told me I am at risk of diabetes. So, I am playing where I've never played before, and foregoing my go-to comfort food. But by taking this risk that feels like downward momentum, I believe I will intersect with where I want to go: be healthier, less psychologically dependent, and maybe even shed a few pounds.

You can follow Whitney Johnson on Twitter: @johnsonwhitney.

Published on: Jan 15, 2015
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