Disrupting Yourself to Strengthen Your Career

Are you looking to a successful career? Disrupting yourself can help you with that.

Are you looking to a successful career? Disrupting yourself can help you with that. 

Toward the end of each year, a seemingly endless parade of content urges us to reinvent ourselves. Thoughts often turn to self-improvement as a new year approaches – but what if you went even further? What if you try disrupting yourself?

Disruption in the business world refers to innovations that create new markets and value networks, thus shaking up existing ones. After conducting a study of 150,000 leaders, consulting firm Korn Ferry concluded in 2015, “leaders of the future will need to retain a self-disruptive outlook as a central feature of their leadership style to prosper.” How might that self-disruptive outlook translate for an individual? Let’s look at each component of disruption:

Can Disrupting Yourself Theory Help?

Create New Markets

For an individual job seeker, new markets might mean seeking employment in a field you haven’t tapped previously – in other words, a career change. It could mean staying in the same field and trying out types of employers you haven’t approached before – smaller companies instead of large, nonprofits instead of for-profits, employers in a new-to-you geographic region. 

Speaker and executive coach Whitney Johnson, the acknowledged champion of the concept of disrupting yourself, identifies this type of move as a key to growth: “Step back (or sideways) in order to grow,” she writes in Harvard Business Review. “Disrupters avoid the problem [of stalled learning] by jumping to a new role, industry, or type of organization and putting themselves on an entirely different growth trajectory,” says Johnson, who authored Disrupt Yourself! She suggests determining the jobs you want to do, then positioning yourself “to play where no one else is playing.” 

This growth can also be fueled by training and professional development to forestall stagnating learning. Taking this idea a step further, Mark Schaefer, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, suggests teaching a class as “an energizing challenge and a mandate to stay relevant.”

Creating new markets could mean creating a new market within your current scenario by proposing a way to fill an employer’s needs or solve a problem for the organization. (Learn more.) It could mean volunteering, attaining an internship, or launching a side hustle in an unfamiliar field. Johnson suggests you “target a need that can be met more effectively. If you try disrupting yourself, you will look for needs that aren’t being met well.” 

Develop New Value Networks

As defined by Investopedia, a value network “is a set of connections between organizations and/or individuals interacting with each other to benefit the entire group.” A value network allows members to share information. That information can be used for disrupting yourself and finding new opportunities. You probably have your own personal/professional network and are part of multiple sub-networks. How could you draw on these resources to form a network that would benefit all members? One possibility might be the rather old-school concept of the “job club,” in which members support each other in finding jobs. Perhaps it’s a group on social media that focuses on developing a disruptive idea of mutual interest. “Smart conversations fuel personal disruption,” notes Schaefer, who recommends connecting with people younger than yourself.

Disruption work in the network realm also includes identifying your disruptive strengths and how they fit in with the strengths of network members – determining competencies you possess that most others don’t. Johnson offers a list of questionsto help people uncover their disruptive strengths. The next step is to marry your strengths to unmet needs. “Sometimes that means deploying earned skills in a new enterprise, entirely unrelated to prior experience, but susceptible to the same problems — and solutions — that you’ve encountered previously,” says Renee DiResta, one of the disrupters Johnson profiles in Disrupt Yourself: 5 Ways to Become Your Own Agent of Disruption.

Shaking Things Up

It’s daunting – though not impossible – to think that the actions of an individual could shake up an entire marketplace, industry, or network. But shaking things up on a grander scale can begin with “disrupting yourself thinking” in the individual. Johnson recommends being flexible and letting strategy emerge.

To encourage a disruptive mindset, do something with less than 48 hours’ notice. That’s the suggestion of personal-development blogger Tim Denning. His rationale is that “self-disruption requires rapid and immediate action.” 

Additional suggestions from Johnson and Denning for cultivating a disruptive mindset include these:

  • Seek out unfamiliar places in which you can think creatively.
  • Redefine your passions.
  • Surround yourself with inspiring people.
  • Don’t be afraid to follow a zigzagging path.
  • Invest in yourself.
  • Do something you’ve cheated yourself out of in the past.

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