Book Summary: Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson

Quick Summary: According to Disrupt Yourself, disruption is the fuel for all new ideas. Companies large and small are always looking for new ways to do things, for a new technology that will outdo the competition.

The tech sector is in constant flux and change, making it one of the most innovative industries in the world. One minute a company can be happily leading the market, the next it’s surprised by a small competitor with a new product and storms to the top. Just think of Nokia, which used to dominate the cell phone industry. Where do they stand today?

But it’s not just companies that can be upended. You can also turn yourself around and achieve the success you seek.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: Match your distinctive strengths with unmet needs in society to be successful

Each person has something unique about them that can set them apart. The koala, despite its quiet behavior and seemingly indolent nature, is one of the few animals capable of metabolizing the toxins contained in eucalyptus leaves.

In today’s highly competitive business world, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.

Let us look at an example from the 2014 film The Hundred Foot Journey to see how you can use your special skills to your advantage in the business world.

In the film, a family from India has to leave their home during the political unrest in Mumbai. When they reach Europe, they settle in a sleepy town in France, where the patriarch of the family buys a run-down restaurant.

Hassan, the family’s brilliant young son, is a culinary expert on Indian cuisine, but the townspeople are reluctant to try the new restaurant’s unusual fare. However, a kind-hearted French neighbor takes Hassan under his wing and teaches him the finer points of French cooking.

Hassan now possesses the rare ability to combine classic French flavors with Indian spices; when he puts this skill to use, the restaurant flourishes.

Hassan has also tapped into a previously untapped market with his dishes; you, too, should focus your skills on filling a social void.

When Jayne Juvan started working at the law firm of Roetzel & Andreas in Cleveland, Ohio, she was a young woman in a traditionally male field. She knew she had to find an unmet social need to prove herself.

Juvan observed that few of her competitors were active on Twitter and Facebook, so she did so and quickly gained a number of high-profile clients.

The partners at Juvan’s law firm recognized her potential early on because she had a keen eye for what was missing in the firm and in the world. Juvan was only 32 years old at the time.

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Lesson 2: It’s possible to turn limited resources and experience into great motivation

You are not alone if you have ever been paralyzed by Netflix’s seemingly endless catalog and could not make a single choice. Boundaries can be helpful when it comes to making choices, both personal and professional.

When resources are limited, companies often find new and innovative ways to get work done.

Nick Jekogian, property manager, is well aware of this fact. His company did particularly well in the early days when resources were limited. During that time, employees put in extra effort because they were aware of the consequences of poor performance.

By 2007, the company had become profitable, and finances were no longer an issue. At that point, the company’s executives stopped caring about the things that really mattered, and the company began to shrink.

What Jekogian went through is not without precedent either. According to a 2007 study by Entrepreneur magazine, 72% of the most successful startups do not have access to capital from private investors or bank loans.

Moreover, it’s possible to be successful with little experience in a particular field.

Due to health problems, Athelia Woolley LeSueur was forced to give up her career in international relations, even though she had extensive experience in the field. As a result, she ventured into the fashion industry.

Without any experience in the fashion industry, LeSueur opened a clothing website called Shabby Apple, which became a huge success. She saved time and money by avoiding the traditional route through middlemen such as sales agents and wholesalers.

To secure the services of these business partners, you have to haggle a lot, and it’s not worth it.

Thanks to LeSueur’s independent drive, her company is now worth $47.5 million.

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Lesson 3: Culture and intellectual entitlement kill innovation and leadership

If you’ve ever worked in a company for any length of time, you’ve probably encountered a boss surrounded by yes-men and people who dare not challenge the boss’s ideas. Trying to disrupt yourself is a potentially deadly strategy.

If you want to make a difference, you need to be open to meeting and interacting with people and ideas that are different from your own.

It’s human nature to associate with people who share your values and worldview. However, this can also lead to arrogance and a presumption of superiority over other cultures.

According to studies, people are less creative when they stay within their own social group.

Scientific literature published between 1990 and 2000 was reviewed by the Kellogg School of Management. One indicator of a paper’s success was how often it was cited by other researchers in subsequent papers.

Papers that drew on both mainstream academic sources and a small number (10-15%) of non-traditional sources performed best.

This suggests that the most prolific authors left their usual academic networks to find new perspectives.

Intellectual pretension is another trap that can blind a good leader to dissenting opinions.

This is the case when leaders are so confident in their own abilities that they refuse to consider alternative viewpoints.

Brooksley Born, who headed the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission before the 2008 financial crisis, is familiar with being overlooked.

She repeatedly stressed the importance of regulating the derivatives market. But neither Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, nor Larry Summers, the Treasury secretary, were interested in hearing her concerns because of their greater experience and authority.

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Lesson 4: A career move shouldn’t be taken lightly, but knowing when to make it’s critical

Anyone who has seen Olympic divers in action can attest to the fact that it takes a great deal of skill to avoid a fateful header when diving into the water. One of the trickiest things to do in business is to gracefully step down from your post, and that requires just as much self-control.

Knowing when to step back is critical to progress.

Carine Clark, a senior manager of online products at software company Novell, recognised this. She felt she had achieved her goals after launching a massive $80 million advertising campaign, so she quit and started a new project.

Clark’s timing was perfect when she decided to join Altiris, a small start-up that offered a platform for managing IT. Clark was promoted to CEO of the combined company after Symantec acquired Altiris in 2007 for $6 billion, and Clark had been with the company since its inception.

Some good can still come from being removed from your position against your will.

Clark resigned in 2009 after a breast cancer diagnosis. This forced her to take time off from the business world. After recovering, she decided it was time for a fresh start.

Clark started her own software company in 2012, which was acquired by MaritzCX in 2015. Once again, she was elected CEO of the company.

Success stories like Carine Clark’s show the importance of working on yourself and recognising when it’s time to try something new.

You, too, can be as successful in business as Clark by realistically assessing your situation, weighing the potential pros and cons of different courses of action, and then acting accordingly.

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