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Jump To A New Learning Curve Inside Of Your Company - Interview With Whitney Johnson

6 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
November 3, 2015
Last updated: August 17, 2019
Jump To A New Learning Curve Inside Of Your Company - Interview With Whitney Johnson
Whitney Johnson is the author of the critically-acclaimed Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, "The 'What Color is Your Parachute' for the entrepreneurial age", according to the Boston Globe.


The workplace is changing rapidly. People no longer stay for 20 years in the same company. So, how do you build a career development plan, when there is a good chance that the company you started with is not the one where you’ll likely retire from?

You include in your plan the development of portable skills, skills that translate across industries and geographies. You then explain how these skills translate across disciplines. Ideally, you look for 3rd party validation of your skills, such as industry awards or certifications. Your plan also includes learning to disrupt yourself, to learn to jump from one learning curve to the next, and then quickly climb that new learning curve because companies don't disrupt, people do.

What career-hindering mistakes do employees make most often in your experience? What about employers?

Not playing to their distinctive strengths. Far too often we overvalue what we aren't, and undervalue what we are. It's a natural thing. What is hard to learn may be a pay-to-play milestone in a chosen profession. We value it because we worked hard to learn it, but what will make you soar to the top will be playing to your strengths, the things you do that are as natural as breathing.

More and more businesses rely on remote workers. Is this a good choice for an ambitious employee, since he or she is not likely to be a part of watercooler conversations, lunches with management and other face to face interactions that can help with career advancement?

There is no substitute for face-to-face. But it is certainly much easier for people to be remote workers today than a decade ago and most employees feel that their bosses trust them to get the work done. In time there may even be a substitute as the rising generation comes of age. This is a generation who has played games on-line with people they've never met nor will ever meet.

That said, when you work remotely there is an interesting opportunity. When you see someone everyday, it's easy to get into habits / patterns of communication that are sloppy. When you are remote, you can be more strategic, more thoughtful more measured about how you communicate. It's not a given, but you have the potential to be more effective.

So - can you advance? Yes.

A lot of managers are afraid of (overly)ambitious employees, because they are afraid that these workers leave them for another company, when a better opportunity arises. Is this a justified fear and what’s the strategy for dealing with such workers?

Whenever a person takes a job they are hiring the job to do two jobs, a functional and an emotional job. The functional job is to put food on the table, pay the rent. The emotional job almost always involves feeling challenged and useful. We hear that people leave for more money, but that is frequently symptomatic. Give them an opportunity to disrupt themselves, to jump to a new learning curve inside of your company, so they can continue to feel challenged and useful. Frequently they'll stay, and it won't cost you a nickel more.

What are the top three trends that you believe will have the biggest impact on people’s carriers in the next ten years?

Age, mobility, and technology advancement.

What resources can you recommend to our readers who’d like to learn more about how to plan their carriers and become successful?

It's self-serving, but obvious, take a look at my book Disrupt Yourself. My premise is that companies don't disrupt, people do. Here's how. In 7 steps. In the book, I explain how the frameworks of disruptive innovation apply to individuals, how every time we start a job, we jump to a new learning curve, and then offer up (7) guardrails for speeding progress along this learning curve.

Thank you for the interview.

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