To a large extent, personal growth depends on embracing opportunities for learning and discovery, whether that be through meeting new people, experiencing new things, or thinking in radically different ways. While it might be much more comfortable to go with the flow and leave the status quo undisturbed, that approach undoubtedly will lead down the road to complacency, and most likely, zero self-growth.
While there’s something to be said for being comfortable, that’s not usually the track adopted by leaders. Instead, leadership is born from an attitude which calls for disrupting yourself, i.e., leaving behind one’s comfort zone and climbing the rockier road to greater heights. As thought leader Jennifer Sertl once wrote, “Innovation ultimately begins on the inside,” which succinctly expresses the notion that real change is seldom simply thrust upon you, but is instead brought about through intentional pursuit.
Can you be an agent for change?
Maybe you think of yourself as someone who can be a true innovator, or an agent for change. But before you think about the innovation you might bring about, ask this: are you prepared to disrupt yourself? There’s risk involved with disrupting yourself, because you might fall flat on your face, and find yourself going through a loss of reputation or even a loss of status through demotion, or through a lateral move that puts you safely away from the forefront of business.
Here’s the catch. If you’re trying to plan for disruptive innovation, either within or without you, it’s probably a waste of your time. As observed by Columbia University Professor Amar V. Bhide, the most successful new business ventures rarely become the embodiment of what was originally visualized by their founders. In about 90 percent of all cases, those strategies originally embarked upon were not even the ones which ultimately achieved success.
What that means is that real disruptive innovation doesn’t come from values or principles in your current inventory. And in fact, the way that you currently measure success or excellence may be what has to change in order for you to experience a personal disruption, which can lead to impacting your organization in a similar way.
As an example, consider the metrics for personal success you had when you were 21 years old: big salary, fine house, nice car, four weeks’ vacation, etc. How did those metrics change when you turned 40? Whether or not you actually achieved any or all of those things, were the measurements of success the same? Or were they more like job satisfaction, social contribution, family values, self-learning, and personal growth?
Of course, a lot of this changing perspective has to do with maturity and an evolving family life, but it’s that same mechanism which can lead to personal disruption — an entirely different set of attributes by which you measure success. Those attributes may not be apparent to you in your complacency stage, but when you force a different, riskier mindset, you trigger a personal disruption, which just might make you an agent for disruptive innovation.
How do you go about disrupting yourself?
A great way to start is by simply trying new things like visiting unfamiliar places, so that your brain starts making new neurological connections. Internally, that re-wiring of the brain might well trigger new thought processes and attitudes, which can spill over into your daily perspective. Take a trip somewhere new, attend a show or seminar that you normally wouldn’t, listen to music you’ve never tried before, or read a book that is outside your normal range of interest. Anything that represents a new kind of experience for you has the potential to trigger self-disruption.
The people you associate with can have a huge influence on your thinking, whether you realize it or not. By placing yourself (at least occasionally) in company with people who ‘stir the pot’ and think creatively, you may be inspired with ideas you wouldn’t have come up with on your own. Networking with colleagues and other interesting people provides fertile ground for the seeds of ideas to germinate.
Finding something to be passionate about can be another vehicle for self-disruption. Even if it’s long-established idea you’ve had, the disruptive part comes into play when truly immerse yourself in it, and take risks that will really make it your life’s passion. Yes, it can result in failure, but that’s the nature of disruption — it goes well outside the box, where the supports are fewer and the risks are greater.
Don’t be afraid of deviating from the tried-and-true path. Just as your background knowledge has given you the understanding and perception to see how a business is being conducted, this other body of knowledge can make it better. Maybe a square peg won’t go in a round hole, but why not change the shape of the hole?
Lastly, believe in yourself. Invest in yourself. If you’re to be an agent for change and a leader, there’s no room for self-doubt. Go there boldly and confidently. Give yourself opportunities for self-disruption and expose yourself to things outside the realm of your complacent world. You’ll start seeing things in new ways. Remember, your brain is creating new paths and making new connections internally, and that’s when your world will really get exciting.
You will literally be transformed, and that’s when you’ll be in a position to transform your organization.