Article: The upside of upheaval: Whitney Johnson on embracing disruption

Learning & Development

The upside of upheaval: Whitney Johnson on embracing disruption

Disruption expert Whitney Johnson asserts that change serves as a launchpad for growth and elucidates how setbacks can propel us forward.
The upside of upheaval: Whitney Johnson on embracing disruption

In a world constantly grappling with change, how can we not just adapt, but thrive?  Whitney Johnson, CEO of Disruption Advisors and a renowned expert on growth, reframes disruption, not as a threat, but as a springboard for growth. The bestselling author and recipient of the prestigious Thinkers50 Award posits that strategic adjustments, even temporary setbacks, can propel us towards bigger and better prospects down the line.

In an exclusive interview, Whitney shares profound insights on how individuals can harness disruptions for personal growth and innovation. Here are the excerpts.

You're a leading expert on the concept of change and growth. How do you view the disruptions and upheavals of the past three and a half years?

The pandemic and its ongoing uncertainties have undoubtedly had a significant impact on how, when, and where we work. However, it's important to remember that disruption isn't always a purely negative force. As with any major shift, it presents both challenges and opportunities for growth.

As Viktor Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist, famously stated, “When we can't change external circumstances, we must focus on changing ourselves”. This quote is particularly relevant when adapting to today's work environment. Disruption offers a chance for self-disruption—a proactive approach to personal growth and development that fosters innovation.

Instead of being confined by limitations, we can view them as springboards for creativity. By asking ourselves "how can I use these constraints to innovate and be more effective?" we unlock the potential for significant individual and collaborative contributions.

Your emphasis on disruption goes beyond the typical view. Can you define it and explain how individuals can leverage it for personal growth and innovation in their organisations?

Disruption isn't just about external forces. It's about how individuals leverage those ideas for personal growth.  A great example is Lady Gaga. Over her career, she's consistently reinvented herself.  At the peak of her pop career, she took a seemingly illogical step – collaborating with Tony Bennett on a jazz album.  She wasn't a jazz artist, but she saw it as an opportunity for growth. The same goes for her involvement in a Sound of Music tribute and a country album.  Each time, she stepped outside her comfort zone, potentially sacrificing short-term success for long-term gain.

Think of it visually. Imagine a graph with success on the y-axis and time on the x-axis.  Disrupting yourself might mean taking a temporary dip on the y-axis, but with the belief that it will lead to a steeper incline in the future.  Think about it mathematically –  maybe your current trajectory is a slow and steady increase.  Disruption could propel you to a steeper, more rewarding path.

Can you elaborate on some of the hurdles people might face when considering to disrupt and grow, and how they can overcome them?

Disruption can be exciting, but the fear of a temporary setback, like a lateral move within a company that might appear as a dip on the success graph, can hold people back.  However, strategic stepping back can actually create a steeper incline in the long run. 

In the case of a lateral move, for example, you might not get an immediate promotion, but you're acquiring new skills that will propel you forward later.  Think of it as a slingshot effect!  Just like companies invest in research and development (R&D) knowing they'll see a return later, investing in yourself through these "stepbacks" can lead to significant future gains.

In your emphasis on individual growth and adaptability, how crucial is the role of continuous learning and upskilling for navigating disruption? 

Learning and upskilling are the engines that drive both individual and organisational growth in the face of disruption. Let's explore why.

We need continuous learning to thrive. People are more engaged and committed when they see opportunities to grow in their roles. This sense of progress fuels hope and fosters a stronger connection to their work.

However, learning often involves taking risks. Organisations need to create an environment where experimentation is encouraged, even if initial efforts aren't perfect. The concept of "failing forward" is key here. Instead of punishment, failures become valuable learning experiences.

A supportive culture is vital. Individuals must feel empowered to take calculated risks without fear of repercussions. Knowing that their development is valued fosters a culture of innovation and resilience, where setbacks are stepping stones to future success.

How do you see the role of HR professionals in this disrupted world? What advice do you have to ensure a thriving workforce? 

HR leaders, or CHROs, hold a pivotal role within organisations, especially accentuated during the pandemic where their influence has been magnified. This moment presents an opportunity for CHROs to not only have a seat at the table but to actively shape organisational strategy as the chair, leveraging their understanding of the human element.

Secondly, I advocate for providing a framework for navigating change and growth, such as the S-curve model and peripheral disruption. Equipping individuals with a structured approach to understanding and embracing change fosters resilience and agility, essential qualities in today's dynamic business environment.

By embracing their influence and offering tools for navigating change, HR leaders can empower both individuals and organisations to thrive amidst disruption. 

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Topics: Learning & Development, #LeadingEdge

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