Whitney Johnson was at the pinnacle of her career in 2005. As an equity analyst for Merrill Lynch, Johnson had enough of a profile that when she spoke about a stock, the stock price generally moved up or down depending on her recommendation. Her influence crossed borders, and her work was quoted by Carlos Slim, who at one point was the richest man in the world.
Then, right at the peak of her career, she resigned and walked away from Wall Street.
“I was at a point where I could continue to hire Merrill Lynch to pay the bills, but I could no longer hire it for the emotional rewards. The emotional cost of staying had become too high when I could no longer bring my dreams to work,” Johnson writes in her recent book, “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work” (Bibliomotion, $24.95).
When Johnson first arrived in New York City in 1989, she was a music major who had no business credentials of any kind. She was introduced to the business world when she got a job as a secretary to help her husband get through school. Sixteen years later, it was Johnson’s husband who encouraged her to follow her dreams even though quitting her job was risky.
“It would have been very easy for (my husband) to push back as I was the main breadwinner,” Johnson said in a recent interview. “It definitely gave me more time to spend with family, but in jumping, there was a loss of stature and financial security.”
However, by applying the principles of disruptive innovation — a theory first developed by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen — to her career, Johnson has accomplished what she would not have been able to while working at Merrill Lynch.
In 2007, Johnson co-founded Rose Park Advisors with her mentor Christensen; wrote the book “Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream” in 2012; was named a Future Thinker Finalist by Management Thinkers50 in 2013; and was one of Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter in 2014.
In “Disrupt Yourself,” Johnson defines disruption theory as “The act of using a practice employed by companies — wherein a product deemed inferior by the market leader (Amazon v. Borders, Uber v. Yellow Cab) eventually upends the industry — and applying it to yourself and your career.” It was this theory that gave Johnson the courage to quit her job at Merrill Lynch and become an entrepreneur.
In the book, Johnson gives examples of people and companies who used disruption techniques to upend the market. The book is organized into seven chapters, each of which explains one of the variables that readers can use to apply personal disruption in their own lives. Starting with “Taking the Right Risks” and concluding with “Be Discovery Driven,” Johnson encourages people to dare to fulfill their dreams.
“When you dream, you are hungering for a better life,” Johnson said. “You become a problem solver, letting nothing stand in your way. Dreams are the engine of disruption.”
“Disrupt Yourself,” though written with business professionals in mind, provides insight to help people in many different career fields. The techniques can be applied in various circumstances no matter where a person is in his or her career.
The book uses business concepts in a way that can be easily understood by those without a business background, and terms that may be unfamiliar to some are clearly explained. Johnson succeeds in using real-life examples to show that a person who is willing to follow the steps of disruption theory stands a good chance of fulfilling personal and professional dreams.
Ben Tullis is a former Deseret News intern and a full-time copywriter and freelance writer. He graduated from UVU in August 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English. He lives in Pleasant Grove with his wife and two boys.