I had the pleasure of interviewing Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself, and formerly co-founder of Rose Park Advisors alongside Clayton Christensen, way back when in episode #13 of Future Squared.
She told the story of her own personal reinvention from secretary on Wall Street to high ranking equities analyst to co-founder of a boutique investment firm which invested in and led the $8 million seed round for Korea’s Coupang, currently valued at US$5+ billion.
It got me thinking about my own story of personal disruption, and just how important personal reinvention is in today's increasingly uncertain environment where the exponential growth in technology is underpinning the disruption of not just industries, not just companies, but perhaps most importantly, people.
Everybody knows that we've come a long way from the days when we came out of University and spent our entire lives working for just one company, but what's happening today is more than just a hop, skip and jump to a better salary, all the while engaging in similar work. What's happening today is about disruption at a far deeper level - the work you do and the impact you're having.
The next ten years promise to be a decade of great upheaval for many industries what with the accelerating pace of improvement in and adoption of artificial intelligence, robots and automation, virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, IoT, analytics, cloud computing, marketplaces and perhaps blockchain, most of today's jobs will simply cease to exist. In fact, AI and robotics alone are tipped to replace 50% of today's jobs in the next 30 years.
Furthermore, the following stats from NPR on the likelihood of jobs being automated provide for some very sobering insights:
- Paralegal and legal assistants - 94.5% chance of being automated
- Accountants and auditors - 93.5%
- Electrical and Electronics Drafters - 80.8%
- Home Appliance Repairers - 72.2%
- Economists - 42.9%
This is why the following three questions are so important:
- Will this job exist in 10 years time? Or even 5 years time?
- Do you love what you do (is there purpose, passion and do you feel you're making a real impact?)
- What are your alternatives and what first steps might you take towards exploring them?
Whitney reminded us in the interview that disrupting yourself should feel lonely. Most of us operate in a society and have been brought up with values that push us towards accepting the status quo. "Go to school, get good grades, get a college degree, get that job, climb the ladder, be comfortable" but is this narrative still true today, when the rate at which companies and jobs are being replaced is rapidly increasing?
Not only that, but this narrative harks back to the early 20th Century, the Industrial Age, when humanity created processes to build workers.
Today, most people from developed economies reading this are likely to be living much more comfortable lives than their Industrial Age relatives did. Average lifespans alone have almost doubled since 1900, a testament to radically better healthcare, plentiful food, running water, electricity, sanitation, education and so on.
Our needs have therefore changed. We are no longer treading the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs where we crave food, shelter and so on - we are far more likely to be at the top of the hierarchy, seeking fulfilment and making a genuine impact in the world.
But breaking the 'school, taxes, death' narrative takes time - like culture change in a large company, it's a marathon, not a sprint.
So why does disrupting yourself feel lonely?
- Family and friends might not get it and perceive what you're doing as throwing all of your hard work down the drain
- Their financial successes in traditional areas might force you to question whether you're making the right decision
- Society and the media glorify winners. Disrupting yourself might come with a lot of sacrifice in the short to mid term. Can you deal with dropping down society's invisible ladder?
- Try as you might, you often just don't seem to be moving forward. Successfully disrupting yourself, like Clayton Christensen's theory of disruption innovation, might take one, two, three, five or even more years.
A healthy dose of self awareness and living what Stephen Covey calls, in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a principle-centred life, not one driven by externally driven values or the bottom line, should help you to not lose sight of where you're going on your journey of personal reinvention.
When I look back on my journey of personal disruption, it's littered with the above questions and self-doubt but ultimately, the journey has been amazing and I can now say, hand on heart, that I am all the more fulfilled and happier for it and each day I am presented with amazing opportunities and work with amazing people.
What did my journey of personal disruption look like?
2005: Customer Service @ Westpac
2007: Administration @ Dun & Bradstreet
2009: Financial Audit @ Victorian Auditor General's Office
2011: IT Risk @ Ernst & Young
2013: Risk Management @ Macquarie Bank
2013: Web Startup Founder @ HOTDESK
Today: CEO / Co-Founder @ Collective Campus where I have had the pleasure of wearing many hats. Namely innovation consultant, workshop facilitator, author, speaker and podcast host. We've also built and spun off Lemonade Stand, a business and tech school for kids, which has been a source of incredible intrinsic reward.
From customer service to financial and IT audit, to broader risk management at an investment bank, to building and funding a web startup to co-founding an innovation consultancy and school that works with everything from 8 year olds through to large NYSE listed corporations like MetLife Insurance in the span of 10 years. This is the world we are living in and we all have the opportunity to seek out our purpose and passion in life.
I was asked recently what the next 10 years look like? Given the rate at which technologies are progressing and business models are shifting, I simply could not answer that question. One thing is certain though, constant personal reinvention.
This is simply the result of proactivity and having a growth mindset - nothing more. You must be willing to walk the lonely road, put your ego on the line, face rejection hundreds if not thousands of times, fail, learn and grow.
If you're currently in a job that you find unfulfilling and to add insult to injury, that job is facing disruption, seek out alternatives and start exploring.
It will never be the right time. Whatever stage of life you're at there will always be excuses. University or work commitments, saving for holidays, kids in the picture, mortgages, school fees and so on...
Stop waiting for the right time and take that first step. No matter how small, take it and take it today.