Disrupt Yourself

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In the United States, the idea of a job for life has long been outdated.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median job tenure for American workers age 25 or older has held steady at about five years since 1983, and for men it has slightly declined. 

Baby Boomers born from 1957 through 1964 held 11 jobs, on average, between ages 18 and 44, says another BLS report.  And studies of long-term employment from 1976 to 2006 show percentages of people who have been with their companies at least 10 and at least 20 years have fallen substantially. 

Career change isn’t as easily documented, but anecdotal evidence and partial analysis by economists and sociologists indicate that these bigger shifts are also becoming more common. 

As explained in a July/August 2012 Harvard Business Review article by Whitney Johnson titled “Disrupt Yourself,” such dramatic changes in career direction make perfect sense when considered in light of the theories formulated by Harvard’s Clayton M. Christensen. 

Christensen is the father of disruptive innovation:that’s the idea that the most successful innovations are those that create new markets and value networks, thereby upending existing ones.  Volumes of research and evidence show how disruptive thinking improves the odds of success for products, companies, and even countries. 

Johnson runs an investment fund in which Christenson is deeply involved.  That fund focuses on disruptive stocks, and it has outperformed relevant indices by a sizable margin over the past decade. 

Johnson asserts that disruption can work just as well on a personal level for people who work within and move between organizations, as it does for entrepreneurs who launch disruptive companies. 

Significantly, not everyone has to abandon the traditional path in order to be successful.  If you’re working toward an ambitious and potentially achievable goal, such as managing a division at your firm or winning a C-suite job in your industry, disruption is unnecessary. 

In that case, you’re pursuing what Christensen calls sustaining innovation — that’s when a company or person gets better at what they are already doing and provide more value to existing...

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