Disrupt your routine while you are at the top of your game
Often, the reason people are fired is because they are at the top of the curve and refuse to “jump”
The theory of disruption is about the willingness to do a silly little thing that can eventually take over the world. We saw Toyota take over General Motors, the Flipkarts of the world challenging Walmart, and Uber challenging the cabs of the world.
How does that apply in a career? When I first moved to New York, I couldn’t get a job on Wall Street because I had majored in music in college and had no business background. Instead, I took a disruptive course and started as an administrative assistant for a retail stockbroker. Once I had a foot in the door, I started taking courses at night that allowed me to move up. So, I was willing to take on jobs that other people may not have wanted, knowing that this would give me a foothold to move up and achieve the success I wanted.
Once you have achieved what you want to—I was at the top of my game since I was working as an award-winning investment analyst on Wall Street—make a decision to disrupt yourself. I did it because I wanted to start over again, learn more.
When you understand the framework of disruption, you are able to apply it to yourself. When you are able to apply it to yourself, then you can actually ride the change, rather than have it ride you.
There is a tension around the idea that continuous disruption can stand in the way of productivity. Once you are at the top of the learning curve, there is this idea in your head that you will be super-productive. But that happens only for a while. Because once you know how to do it, you get comfortable or bored and your productivity begins to drop. You need to be at a place where you know enough to be productive, but still be in a stage that you are challenged, and, therefore, not bored. That is where your productivity will be optimized.
For most millennials, initiating disruption would still be early in their careers. Having said that, by their very nature, millennials tend to be more disruptive. They do have the urge to learn more, they ask questions, like ‘Why do I need to work here?’ and ‘Why does it need to be like this and not like that?’ This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that they saw their parents losing jobs in which the latter may have worked loyally for decades. So millennials probably think this is not something that they want to go through. He/she is more likely to question what the workplace does for him/her, and if he/she doesn’t like it, is most likely to jump to a place that suits him/her.
With the changing workplace, everyone has to be open to reskilling. We are programmed to be learning machines. Regular disruption gives us the opportunity to learn, leap to a new place, and this process continues.
If you are a millennial, you already have the skill sets that are most current and you don’t necessarily have to reskill. But this is not the end of the game. Research shows that the older we get, the more complacent we can get, and the less we try to figure out how to do new things. That is, until you are at the top of the curve and find out that you are about to lose your job. You have two options here—either reskill and remain relevant, which means you are disrupting yourself, or get fired and start at the bottom in some other organization, which means you are being disrupted. This speed of change now is the slowest it is ever going to be. We have to learn to manage and cope with it.
Often, the reason people are fired is because they are at the top of the curve and refuse to “jump”. You lose your job, because it was time for you to jump and go to the bottom of the learning curve. So, to cut a long answer short, if you are well into your career, you absolutely have to reskill. And if you don’t, you will get disrupted.
Whitney Johnson is one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world, an expert in disruptive innovation and personal disruption. She is a coach for Harvard Business School’s executive education programme and a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review. Her new book, Build An “A” Team: Play To Their Strengths And Lead Them Up The Learning Curve, came out in May.
As told to Sohini Sen