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Book Review: Disrupt Yourself
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Book Review: Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson

Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work

Written by: Whitney Johnson. New York, NY: Bibliomotion, 2015. 162 + xxvi pages. US$24.95 (hardcover).
Reviewed by: Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, NPDP, Simple-PDH and Global NP Solutions, LLC

Disrupt Yourself

Whitney Johnson, a colleague of Clayton Christensen and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, presents an introspective look at disruption in Disrupt Yourself. This small book examines how we can apply innovation theory, like disruption and S-curves, to changing our personal and professional lives.

A foundational idea behind disruption is that incumbent firms fail to recognize game-changing opportunities because they are mired in the day-to-day management of existing products and services. Johnson extends this concept to personal situations. When individuals are considered at the peak of their career, they often remain in positions that fail to challenge them adequately. The reasons vary, but include finances, ego and fear. We may stay in a job that no longer provides growth opportunities just because it is familiar.

In Chapter 1, Johnson compares and contrasts competitive risks and market risks:

Competitive Risk

As new product development practitioners, we are well-versed in recognizing and responding to competitive risk. Customers want to fill a need and you believe you have a product to meet that customer’s need. There are already suppliers serving these customers in one way or another.

Market Risk

A market risk, on the other hand, underpins disruptions. Here, you sense an unfilled customer need with the belief that you can design a solution to address the customer’s problem. You have no idea if they will purchase your product or service, or if it will be a profitable and sustainable venture. Yet, Johnson argues that people who take on market risk are more successful.

Success, however, must be carefully defined. In a chapter titled, “Give Failure Its Due,” Johnson reassures us that in disrupting ourselves, money cannot define success. For some people, of course, money does define success. But for others, success comes with fame or reach. While yet other people strive to make a difference, spend more time with their families, or to live in a particular place. We should not be surprised, then, that we sometimes take backward steps or make lateral moves to meet long-term goals (Chapter 5).

Chapter 3, “Embrace Constraints,” addresses an interesting concept that links disruptive innovation and disrupting yourself. A completely blank piece of paper can be counterproductive. When there are no boundaries, decision-making is not limited by trade-offs. The result can be paralyzing so that you cannot move forward.

Instead, Johnson argues, constraints provide opportunities to create unique and novel solutions to problems. Imposing or accepting constraints drives us to test and refine various features of potential solutions while providing fast feedback. Feedback allows us to modify our view of both the problem and potential solution for that problem. Constraints include money, time, resources and our own emotions, such as confidence and/or fear.

Disrupt Yourself is a very quick and easy book to read. It is one-part innovation, one-part advice, and one-part personal journey. Whitney Johnson detail her own rise to a career high as a Wall Street stock analyst. She left the industry at the peak of her career to find new opportunities, hoping to become a children’s book author.

Yet, like disruption in industry, Johnson recognized new opportunities and ended up co-founding Rose Park Advisors with Clayton Christensen. I recognize my own story in Disrupt Yourselfas I left a much-envied position in the chemical industry to from an innovation training and consulting firm. Maybe you will also see yourself or your own career disrupted as you read this book!

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