Disruption. It’s a powerful word, one that describes the very situations we think we should avoid. It often instills fear, stress and anxiety because we associate it with chaos and disorder. Disruption pushes us outside our comfort zones. It is also what allows us to continually learn and grow. Should we view the disruptions in our lives negatively? No. Rather, we should embrace and even run toward potential disruptions in our lives. Let me explain.
Disruptive innovation is a theory put forward by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a former Area Authority Seventy. Put simply, disruptive innovation is a type of challenge that creates new markets while upending existing markets in the process. Christensen demonstrated this theory by describing disruption of the computer industry. The first computers were worth millions of dollars and required years of training to operate them. Because of the costs associated with those first computers, they were only available to top companies and universities. Entrepreneurs, sensing value in providing simple, cost-effective computing, began to experiment with ways to make them more affordable and available. This led to home computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets.
Christensen focused on disruptive innovation among companies, but it can also be applied to our personal lives. In many ways we are like the pioneers of the computer industry. Just like them, we too can be comfortable in our work and personal lives. Comfort is a good thing. But comfort is a problem when it causes us to plateau or to be unhappy about the direction our lives have taken. We must also be able to take a step back and be the innovators who recognize the value of disruption and the potential opportunities and rewards it can bring.
Whitney Johnson, the author of “Disrupt Yourself,” has taken the concept of Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory and come up with five suggestions on ways we can start disrupting ourselves.
First, assess where we are versus where we would like to be. Often when we do this we recognize a gap between the two. When we take the time to acknowledge this gap we can then determine how to resolve it, whether it is in changing employers, career paths, locations or hobbies.
Second, we must iterate. This means we must keep trying, keep repeating, keep assessing and keep adjusting. It is common that the initial way someone starts down a path will not be the same way he keeps heading in a week, month, year or five years from now. However, by constantly striving to reach his end goal, he will find open doors.
Third, embrace our constraints and strengths. The phrase “creativity loves constraints” applies to disruptive innovation. When we take the time to recognize our constraints we can then figure out how to solve these issues through our strengths. However, for this to work, we must know our strengths and how to best use them.
Fourth, be impatient. We should not be amenable to opposition, delays or easy wins. We must be eager and have a strong desire for success. However, it is essential to be patient with ourselves while waiting for big wins. Disruptive opportunities will lead to success, and if on the small chance they don’t, then don’t be afraid to re-evaluate.
Fifth, start now. We should not be afraid to begin evaluating our lives and figuring out what areas need to be disrupted. Once you find those areas that need change, start making those changes.
Disruption can cause positive change; embrace the opportunities that disruption brings.
John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development.
Megan Nicole Miller, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.