Interview: How to Use Disruption to Become More Successful

Aug 26, 2013
10 Min Read

Disruption and SuccessBill Jensen often writes about making work simpler to be more productive and successful, but his latest book says it’s time we harnessed the power of disruption to achieve even more. In this interview with Anita Bruzzese, he talks about the ideas behind “Disrupt! Think Epic, Be Epic: 25 Successful Habits for an Extremely Disruptive World.”


Anita Bruzzese: We often see disruption as something bad, so why do you say that disruption is important if you want to be successful?

 Bill Jensen: That's a great question because it exposes the assumptions we each make about disruptions.

Disruptions are anything that change the course of our daily routines or our lives. They can be either good (birth of a new child, new empowering technology) or bad (global conflicts, economic downturns). Nowadays there's also a third dimension — it doesn't matter whether the disruptions are good or bad, there's just too many of them! You probably encountered a dozen pain-in-the-butt disruptions before you had your first cup of coffee today!

So, wishing that all the disruptions would stop or somehow become manageable simply is not realistic. The amount and intensity of them are only going to increase. Sorry!

What we can do, however, is change our view of disruptions: If they're going to keep coming at us anyway, we need to get better at embracing them and seeing them as opportunities.

The main takeaway I found is this: Everyone’s job — from the most senior executive to the newest hire — is to figure out how to benefit from, or take advantage of, continuous disarray, disorder and disruption.

We need to change our current view about constant disruptions as being threats to what’s already been planned. Instead, we need to embrace that disorder as new opportunities and understand that every single day is filled with amazing possibilities that we couldn't have imagined the night before! Constantly adjusting and revising and being flexible and adaptable are the new norms.

AB: You interviewed people for the book that you call “disruptive heroes.”  What are a few habits they all seem to have?

BJ: I interviewed 100 great disruptive heroes — all of whom refused to accept the status quo and are actually causing many of the disruptions we each experience. From CEOs like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer; to tech mavens like the founders of StumbleUpon, Flickr, Wikipedia, Meetup and Crowdcast; to Jon Landau, the producer of Titanic and Avatar, two of the highest-grossing films ever; and more.

I found 25 habits that are crucial to success in a disruptive era. Among them:

Question everything: When everything is changing so much, so fast, we all need to get better at questioning the assumptions and root causes of whatever problems come at us.

Kill what you cherish most: Each of us must embrace that all our best work is already being disrupted by someone else. So we need to start reinventing every project as soon as it’s completed, before someone else does it for us.

Have lots of affairs (on your boss): If all of your earned income is as someone else’s employee, you are among the walking dead. In today’s highly disruptive era, everyone who works must also be an entrepreneur. Everyone! You can still be someone's else's employee — you just can't be only just someone else's employee.

Audacity matters: "Good enough" is no longer good enough. Boldness stands out. And with a gazillion new things coming at everyone every day, standing out matters. "Risk averse" is actually now a very risky strategy.

Make a mess: We all need to be willing to iterate, iterate, iterate. That means letting go of projects and your work before it's as good as you would like, and be willing to refine it again and again based on continuous feedback. (Tough love feedback, which isn't always fun to receive!)

AB:    Some of these habits may seem a little frightening to some people. Can you address their fears in mimicking such habits?

BJ: Every hero said basically the same thing when I asked them this question: Fear means go. Embrace your fears. It's OK to feel fearful sometimes, but it's not OK to let those fears control you or stop you.

Until you are practiced in them, each of the 25 habits will raise the fear of the unknown: What will happen if I embrace these habits? How will my life change? What am I risking if I try this?

A disruptive world means that most every day is going to be filled with lots of unknowns. That is a given. Fearing them will not make them safer, nor will it make them go away.

But how does one embrace and let go of one's fears? Again, the 100 heroes were consistent in their responses that what you need, so you can let go of any fear is: inner confidence; a deep passion; a clear personal mission; belief in yourself; a rock-solid moral compass and values you call upon to make tough decisions; and clear thinking. Go inward in order to deal with fears that come from changes "out there."

Many heroes added another way to deal with your fears: Reach out to your family, your friends, your community, your tribe, your network. When your inner confidence isn't quite up to "go for it!" levels, those around you will help get you there.

AB:   All this disruption sounds like it could be a little chaotic in a workplace. How do you avoid the problem of so much disruption that nothing gets done?

BJ: Please allow me to turn that question around. Let's be honest. Let's admit that today's workplace is already massively chaotic, and our current approaches for making things more stable and predictable simply are not working.

We're in an era where many of our ways of doing things need to change and are going to continue to change. And today's chaos is mainly because we're still working through that transition. Many of us are still holding onto how things were or should be. (C'mon, admit it!)

However, the 25 habits revealed by the disruptive heroes are anchored in the new ways things need to get done. So embracing them actually means more gets done — faster, better, cheaper, and more easily too!

AB:    What’s the most disruptive thing you’ve done lately?

Personally, it has been taking on the sponsoring of and the daily mentoring of someone very dear to me who is struggling with a lot of personal issues. Every day I am reminded that I have to let go of how things should be and help her in the way that best works for her.

Professionally, it has been investing (probably too much!) in researching, developing, writing and producing the book that's behind this interview.

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