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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Disrupt Yourself 07-08


Disrupt Yourself

by Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson on disruptive innovation and your career path.
My career path has been an unusual one. I started as a secretary on Wall Street, worked my way up in my firm’s investment banking group, and then stepped back to become an equity research analyst. Eight years later, I quit that job to produce a TV show and write a children’s book, but I ended up blogging about work/life issues and cofounding a hedge fund backed by a man I’d met at church. It’s not what you’d call a traditional corporate trajectory. But perhaps that’s the new normal.
In the United States and many other developed, capitalist countries, the idea of a “company man” (or woman) with a job for life has long been outdated. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median job tenure for American workers age 25 or older has held steady at about five years since 1983, and for men it has slightly declined. Baby boomers born from 1957 through 1964 held 11 jobs, on average, between ages 18 and 44, says another BLS report. And studies tracking long-term employment from 1976 to 2006 paint a similar picture: The percentages of people who have been with their companies at least 10 and at least 20 years have fallen substantially.
Career change isn’t as easily documented, because it’s harder to define than a job switch. But many economists and sociologists think that these bigger shifts are becoming more common, and case studies to support that hypothesis abound.
Consider Martin Crampton, a former research scientist and math teacher from Australia. He parlayed a stint as a developer and demo specialist for a software company in Melbourne into a decade-long marketing career, first at the software firm and then at two multinational manufacturing companies (Bic and Stihl), before starting his own consultancy. In 1993 he leapt into another profession and, with his partner, created Australia’s first national real estate portal (before Realtor.com). Crampton later sold that business and started another one that focused on online services. He currently works on ventures involving franchised data and social media.
Then there’s Liz Brown, once a hard-charging law firm partner who left Fish & Richardson to become executive director of an angel investment network and a professor; Alex McClung, whose 23-year career has spanned 15 diverse roles at six different health care companies; and Heather Coughlin, who started her career in equity sales at Goldman Sachs, helped it launch a third-party research subsidiary, and is now CEO of a mother-and-baby support, education, and retail chain.
It’s hard to make sense of seemingly wanton—yet ultimately rewarding—career choices like those, until you consider the theories of the man I met in church: Clayton M. Christensen.
As HBR readers well know, Christensen is the father of disruptive innovation —the idea that the most successful innovations are those that create new markets and value networks, thereby upending existing ones. Volumes of research and evidence show how disruptive thinking improves the odds of success for products, companies, even countries. Our investment fund focuses on disruptive stocks, and it has outperformed relevant indices by a sizable margin over the past decade.
I believe that disruption can also work on a personal level, not just for entrepreneurs who launch disruptive companies but for people who work within and move between organizations. Zigzagging career paths may be common now, but the people who zigzag best don’t do it randomly.
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