July 16, 2015
Jack Covert Selects: Disrupt You!: Master Personal Transformation, Seize Opportunity, and Thrive in the Era of Endless Innovation
Disrupt You: Master Personal Transformation, Seize Opportunity, and Thrive in the Era of Endless Innovation by Jay Samit, Flatiron Books, 288 pages, $27.99, Hardcover, July 2015, ISBN 9781250059376
I have to admit I’ve become a little weary of “disruption.” It’s become seen as such an unquestioned force for good in today’s business literature that I think we’ve stopped thinking critically about it. Like “innovation,” it has become a buzzword that people throw around but rarely define in practically terms. But my own jadedness doesn’t change the reality that change is accelerating, that the world is being disrupted and born anew all around us at an alarming (or exciting, depending on your temperament) pace. And that is why it is important to get it right when we do talk about it, as Jay Samit does in his new book, Disrupt You.
That’s also why I was glad to see him open the book with a chapter “In Defense of Disruption.” It shows that rather than just spewing the most current, popular business speak, he is really delving into it intellectually. The fact that he begins the chapter discussing a glassmaker meeting the Emperor Tiberius in first-century Rome quickly backs that up. And, when he takes a left turn and advises us to “forget theories of disruption,” it actually improves the practicality of his position:
The management science of disruption has now reached its own maturation stage, as evidenced by the fact that the University of Southern California, where I am an adjunct professor, even offers an undergraduate degree in disruption! But the problem with all the theoretical approaches is that they are like the blood-splatter science used by Showtime’s Dexter Morgan: great for revealing what killed the victim, but worthless for predicting who will be slaughtered next.
Samit comes at the topic with a wealth of personal experience. Beside being a successful serial startup entrepreneur, he has also been hired by major corporations like Universal Studios, EMI, and Sony as an intrapreneur—someone who “disrupts from within the corporation, rather than waiting for the company to be attacked by external forces.” And one of the great qualities of Samit as a teacher is that he has seen it all, “been both the victor and the vanquished.”
I have successfully disrupted markets dominated by IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and Google, and I have been disrupted by two college students in a dorm room.
But it goes beyond business experience, or perhaps I should say it precedes it. Samit believes that to be successful at anything you must first disrupt yourself, question your beliefs and goals, and deconstruct your assumptions. As he says, “all disruption starts with introspection.” Paradoxically, it is introspection that breeds external success, because through that process you’ll start seeing your obstacles as opportunities to ask questions, and then address them.
You can see how adopting this mindset would be formidable in business, and Samit demonstrates how it can be applied to every aspect of it: research and development, design and production, marketing and sales, and distribution, devoting a chapter to each topic.
Though the book can move at a frenetic pace—on one page he’ll be discussing cognitive neuroscience, on the next the German Blitzkrieg—Jay Samit seems to have slowed it down for himself enough to consider it all, and has decided that disruption is, in fact always has been, the way forward. But his prose demonstrating this does move fast, almost disrupting itself! In the first four pages alone, he touches upon the aforementioned Tiberius, drops some current stats on automation and job loss in the United States, retells a classic scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, discusses Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, and tells us of his part in the LaserDisc/VHS/Betamax wars (he was not on the winning side).
There are quick lessons in disruption in each, but they are best illustrated by his personal realizations, like when he came to the conclusion that the laserdisc (which he had been working on) was not going to become the next big thing, as he thought it would:
I realized that the laserdisc hadn’t transformed home entertainment because the only new thing it offered customers was an improved experience. The laserdisc sought to compete on the playing field already established by the VCR. The VCR disrupted television viewing for an entire generation [because consumers could use it to record their favorite television shows]; laserdisc was just an incremental improvement in visual quality.
Just as it precedes business, and after he details exactly how to apply it to business in every facet, he wraps up with how a disruption mindset can also extend well beyond it. After quoting Leo Tolstoy—“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves”—he devotes a chapter to stories of disruptors not driven by a profit motive that are changing the world. Because, in the end, it boils back down to us as individuals.
Being a disruptor is simply a state of mind. It is the ability to look for opportunity in every obstacle, to respond to every setback as a new beginning. It is being in the silver-lining business.
It is this perspective that I appreciate most, the idea that “disruptors” are really agents of change. And though I can be a bit of a curmudgeon on the topic of disruption, wondering if we’re throwing the baby (and all our jobs) out with the bathwater, this is why books like Samit’s are so important to keep picking up. They’re not always welcome, but very necessary reminders, that the world—business and otherwise—we leave our children will bear little resemblance to the one we inherited. In fact, the world two years from now may bear little resemblance to the one we inhabit now. And if we’re not constantly questioning, reinventing, and yes disrupting our own place in it both as individuals and organizations, someone or something else will. So to have a say, we have to be disruptive ourselves, and disrupt our selves.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.