"We typically define disruption as a low-end product or service that eventually upends an industry." says Whitney Johnson. "But before you disrupt the markets you need to disrupt yourself".
By the time Whitney Johnson decided to leave her seven figure salary on Wall Street she was the top ranked investment analyst in her field, working as a Senior Media and Telecom analyst for Latin America at Merrill Lynch. Walking away from such power, prestige, and 10 years of close connections to influencers and billionaires takes a lot of guts.
Johnson left her job mid-career to become an entrepreneur. "Time to disrupt myself, I want to make a dent in the world." she said. This is one the toughest decisions a person can make. Below are some lessons she learned from her "personal disruptive trajectory":
1. If it feels scary and lonely, you're probably on the right track
The reality is that innovation that takes place where there is no market yet is just not that sexy. You do a lot of work without really seeing any results. Passion carries you through this stage. Same thing happens when you disrupt yourself mid-career. You throw away your influence, your stature, and financial stability. It's a scary and lonely place.
2. The checklist of conventional planning doesn't work anymore
Disruption requires discovery-driven planning, Johnson says. After she left Wall Street, she was writing a children's book and pitching a reality TV show. Neither worked out. She then started a blog that turned into a magazine that was initially pretty successful, but failed that in the end.
It was during a volunteer opportunity at a church where she was introduced to a Professor Christensen (the author of Innovator's Dilemma). That introduction eventually led to her role as a founding partner at Rose Park Associates. It's an uncertain path; you cannot predict what you'll be doing in next few hours, nevermind the next day.
3. Throw out any performance metrics you've always relied on
It's common that earlier in life people want money and fame while later in life people want autonomy and ability to make a dent in the world. The metrics of success change. You can no longer measure your success based on money you earn. In Johnson's case, she had to change the measure of her success to the progress she made "learning, developing, building something, doing good." If she had stayed with the same performance metrics (money she earned) she would easily have assessed herself as an utter failure.
Sounds horrible, huh? "Have no fear," Johnson says. There is light at the end of the tunnel (for a few lucky ones at least). Johnson sites an excerpt from Innovator's Dilemma, which says that companies that seek growth via new markets earn on average 20x the revenue of, and are 6x times more likely to succeed than companies seeking growth by entering established markets. The tough part for any person is to walk away from that stable lifestyle to an obscure trajectory where you feel lonely and scared. Hopefully these tips above help that transition.
Johnson is currently a founding partner at Rose Park Advisors, a Disruptive Innovation Fund. Make sure to check out the full article Johnson wrote on Disrupting Yourself in the Harvard Business Review.