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How to Harness Disruption and Reinvent Your Career

By Dorie Clark

During times of economic upheaval, many of us – by choice or necessity – start to think about how to reinvent our professional lives. Whitney Johnson is a fellow member of the Thinkers50 community, author of Disrupt Yourself, and an expert on how you can leverage disruption in your own career – a topic of great interest to me since I wrote my first book, Reinventing You.

In a recent video interview I conducted with Whitney on LinkedIn, we talked about how we can learn to define our own strengths, pivot in our careers, and turn a time of constraint into one of creation.

Here are four pieces of advice Whitney shared on how to leverage the positive power of disruption.

Take on the right type of risk. Whitney says that in disruption theory, there are two kinds of risks you can take: “You can take on competitive risk where you know there’s an opportunity. You have to figure out if you can compete and win. Market risk is when you don’t know if there’s a market.” The upside is that if there is a market, you have no competition. She says, “We know historically from disruption theory that your odds of success are actually much higher when you take on market risk.” When you venture into market risk, you are creating instead of competing.

Play to your distinctive strengths. Identifying what you’re exceptionally good at is the first part of this puzzle. The next piece is how to position your strength. As Whitney explains: “If you’re really good at marketing, for example, and you’re around 20 other people who are really good at marketing, it’s going to be hard to stand out. If you’re really good at marketing and you’re also okay at finance but surrounded by 20 other people that are very good at finance, you are now the stand out in that crowd.” When you’re the expert among a group, you gain confidence, which creates a positive cycle.

Look for the return on failure. Everyone fails all the time. That’s how we learn and improve. The problem is the shame we attach to it. “Look for your return on failure,” she says. “Be driven by discovery to be willing to take a step forward to gather feedback and adapt. Understand that 70% of all successful new businesses ended up with a strategy very different than the one they initially pursued.”

Be careful of backsliding. As you learn through trial and error, stay focused on what you’re creating. Whitney warns that, “You slip into competitive risk when you start looking left and right at what other people are doing.” Instead of trying to beat other people, focus on what you want to create, what your strengths are, and what problems need to be solved that you can solve. When you keep that in mind, you head towards your goal. Whitney recalls a quote from the author Bob Proctor: “Amateurs compete, and professionals create.”

Disrupting ourselves and reinventing our careers may seem challenging, especially in chaotic and uncertain economic circumstances. But by using the strategies above, we can stay relevant, keep learning, and make an even bigger contribution.

 

Dorie Clark teaches executive education for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School, and was named to the Thinkers50 list in 2019. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You, and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, the New York Times described her as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” You can download her Stand Out self-assessment workbook at dorieclark.com.

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