We all know on some level what disruption is, and, in general, we tend to think of it as a negative thing. But disruptive innovation is the reason we have many of the affordable technologies in our lives now. In business, disruptive innovation is one that improves a product in a way the market doesn’t anticipate. Markets can be completely upended by disruption and new categories of consumers created by it.

Benefits of Disruption

Disruption is why we have phones more powerful than the computers that put a man on the moon.

Disruption Can Happen on an Individual Level Too

Disruption isn’t only for markets, however. In her book titled Disrupt Yourself, author and former financial executive Whitney Johnson says “self-disruption,” or following your own disruptive path in life can lead to astonishing changes. The potential “self-disruptor” is the self-starter ready to make a change in his or her business, or perhaps the high-potential person who takes a different career trajectory. To be successful in unexpected ways, following a disruptive path is required.

Disruption Isn’t Comfortable

Johnson warns that personal disruption isn’t comfortable and that people will question disruptive decisions (like leaving a comfortable job to strike out on your own). In fact, she says, “If it feels scary and lonely, you’re probably on the right track.” What’s more, you cannot predict what form disruption will take in your life and what it will look like. But you do a strategy and a plan for carrying on in the meantime while you’re disruptively innovating. After all, bills still have to be paid.

New Measuring Sticks Will Be Necessary

Disruptive innovation in personal life (which may look like a midlife crisis to some) isn’t so much wanting to trash your comfortable life as it is wanting to find new measuring sticks by which to measure success. Maybe money was the metric for a long time, because you wanted to buy a house or send children to college. But now, things like flexibility and autonomy have greater appeal, and they’re not measured the same way. Disruptive success may be measured in unconventional ways, and you need to be OK with that.

Disruptive Innovation Can Yield Tremendous Benefits

That said, pursuing a personally disruptive trajectory can be rewarding. Take a look at the Macarthur Fellows and you’ll find many examples of the disruptive life trajectory. Maybe you’re playing in a sandbox nobody else wants to play in, but that can be the key to your own unique brand of success. But success hardly ever pursues a straight-line course. The path of success can be unpredictable, and you must be prepared, but if you are, you may be rewarded tremendously in terms of fulfillment and even traditional success.

Disrupting Behavior

Success may not look like you thought: it may be even better.

Humans, Businesses, and Life in General Rarely Behave Predictably

People love to detect patterns because it makes us feel like we have a better grasp on the future. And indeed, sometimes history gives an indication of what is to come. But if there were an algorithm to follow to manufacture success, everyone would do it. Johnson, working with strategist Juan Carlos Méndez-García, developed a theory of the “S-curve” as applied to personal disruption. It’s frequently applied to business disruption, but has relevance to personal transformation too.

How Does The “S-Curve” Apply?

With the S-curve of personal development, efforts may produce little near-term. But eventually a tipping point is reached, followed by quick growth and development. This type of “hypergrowth” doesn’t last forever, though. Eventually, it levels off. If you were to graph change on the y-axis versus time along the x-axis, the result would resemble the letter “S.” Johnson and Méndez-García believe life can host many S-curve transformations, and when people recognize this, they can make the most of it.

Serious Difficulties Can Drive Innovations

Life isn’t linear, but the human brain thrives on disruption, and if you can make the jump from this S-curve to the next one at the right time (when growth starts to level off), you can follow success with success, although it may not look like you expected. In fact, sometimes it’s the difficulties that prompt innovation. Johnson says that “Fewer resources produce proximity; proximity drives innovation.” The discomfort of limitations or watching growth slow can be the thing that prompts us to new innovation.

Stagnation Isn’t What You Worked So Hard For

Most of us didn’t work hard just to get to a point where we can coast. Most people need stimulation and something new for our minds to work on. But wherever you are in life you can find this stimulation.

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