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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Disrupt Yourself II

Disrupt Yourself

by Whitney Johnson

Why Disrupt?
Not everyone has to abandon the traditional path, of course. Certainly if you’re working toward an ambitious and potentially achievable goal, such as managing a division at your firm or winning a C-suite job in your industry, disruption is unnecessary. You’re pursuing what Christensen callssustaining innovation:when a company gets better at what it’s already doing and provides more value to existing customers. But if as an individual you’ve reached a plateau or you suspect you won’t be happy at the top rung of the ladder you’re climbing, you should disrupt yourself for the same reasons that companies must.
First and foremost, you need to head off the competition. As you continue to improve along the dimensions of performance that the employment market has historically valued, you risk overshooting demands. What you do reliably, if not brilliantly well, can be done just as effectively by many peers—and perhaps more swiftly and affordably by up-and-comers.
Second, consider the greater rewards that disruption may bring. It’s true that disruptive innovation in business tends to start out as a low-cost alternative to existing products or services, and of course you don’t want to embrace a career strategy that reduces your own price point. But when you disrupt yourself, you vector to a new set of metrics. In some cases, you might initially take a pay cut in return for a steeper trajectory; after all, the endgame of disruption is higher demand for what you produce. In other cases, you might even boost your pay while still undercutting the competition in your new role, organization, or industry. Remember, too, that when it comes to personal disruption, compensation is not just financial. Psychological and social factors also matter.
Four Principles of Self-Disruption
As someone steeped in disruptive innovation, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how it applies to careers and discussing it with people whose peripatetic yet satisfying paths resemble my own. We all seem to follow four rules, loosely based on those that Christensen set out for businesses.
1. Target a need that can be met more effectively.A core principle of disruptive innovation is that customers control resource allocation and that they don’t buy products but instead “hire” them to fulfill a need. Disrupters look for needs that aren’t being met well. They play in markets where no one else is or wants to be. A classic example is A simple, inexpensive, cloud-based system—initially intended to service small and medium-size businesses—is now disrupting the leading providers of customer resource management software.
Martin Crampton’s real estate portal was also a disruptive venture. But his personal disruption started well before that launch, when he realized that marketing strategy, not development and sales, drives usage of software products. He seized the opportunity, thereby positioning himself for a series of big marketing jobs before his next disruptive move. Alex McClung targeted his own industry’s need for people who could move fluidly across functional borders, such as from science to finance and logistics to regulation. Then he sought roles in a variety of health care organizations, ranging from biotech start-up to Fortune500 pharmaceutical, that would help him develop those skills.
And there’s Heather Coughlin’s story of giving up an equity-sales VP position at Goldman Sachs to help launch Hudson Street, an independently operated subsidiary offering investment research to clients. The group was formed partly as a response to court settlements requiring that salespeople in big banks rely on more than just their in-house analysts’ reports. Coughlin got in on the ground floor not only because she thought demand for that service would grow—which it did—but also because she knew that the fledgling group needed someone with her deep experience to serve customers.
“Being cognizant of the world around me and rolling the tape forward was critical,” she explains. “I watched two downturns and lots of layoffs, and swore that I would always try to be one step ahead.” Many colleagues thought she was crazy to leave her comfortable perch for an amorphous role—and to let her pay and status take a hit. But the operating skills she built in helping to launch and run Hudson Street are what propelled her into a business development job—and ultimately the CEO’s seat—at Isis Parenting.

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