Surfing the Wave of Personal Disruption

“My passion for surfing was greater than my fear of sharks.” Bethany Hamilton

Last week we introduced the S-Curve of Personal Disruption. To enable you to speed up this curve, I have identified the 7 variables of personal disruption. These seven variables can speed up or slow down your movement along the curve, including:

The 7 variables is about surfing the S- Curves of your own personal disruption. Yes, disruption can feel a bit scary, but the payoff of career growth and personal achievement makes overcoming the fear factor well worth it. We all start at the low end of the learning curve. The key is to shift into hypergrowth and, when your learning crests, to do what great disruptors do: catch a new wave.

If you can surf the S-Curve way of learning and mastering you will have an accelerated competitive advantage in this era of disruption.

Lets look at each in turn

There are two fundamental types of risk to consider when contemplating some kind of disruptive action: Competitive Risks and Market Risks.

Competitive Risk refers to the risks involved with entering an existing market with a competing product. There’s probably an already-established market leader and other players, meaning you’ll be in a tough fight to gain traction. For personal disruption this means that you are seeking a job where there is probably already a kingpin & where you will have to compete and win.

Market Risk is what you assume when you effectively create a new market, by identifying a need that is not being met and creating the product or service that addresses this need. If there are customers, you are then favoured to own the market. This is what Netflix did when it spotted the opportunity to deliver videos cheaply and directly to consumers’ homes, eventually forcing Blockbuster to adopt the same modus. But by then it was too late for the latter to succeed. What had been a market risk for Netflix, became a competitive risk for Blockbuster, and research tells us that market risk is, well, less risky, than competitive risk. In fact, your odds of success are six times higher and the revenue opportunity 20 times greater with market risk, says Whitney Johnson.

For personal disruption this is identifying a job no one else can do.

Another key element of ensuring you take the right risks is to make sure you’re exploiting your particular skills, or “distinctive strengths.” If you try something you’re only moderately good at, you’re increasing the risk of failure. A distinctive strength is something that you do, that others within your sphere do not. Pairing this strength with a need to be met or a problem to be solved gives you the momentum necessary to move into hypergrowth, the sweet spot of the S-curve.

For personal disruption this could entail public speaking, networking or even bean counting!

Disruption breaks our existing paradigms and takes us out of our status quo. To improve our journey we need to seek constant feedback. One of the best ways to obtain this feedback is to impose constraints. Think of skateboarders. They are some of the quickest learners in the world because they receive some incredibly fast and useful feedback. Every action. Every movement has an immediate consequence.

For personal disruption this means embracing working within limits, space, time, resources, stumbling blocks and budget.

The idea that you deserve or are owed something or are in some way privileged or superior – can be a disruption killer. It manifests itself in several ways. With cultural entitlement, we have such a strong sense of belonging with our peer group or clique, and such a powerful sense of its capabilities that we may tend to think poorly of those outside the group and ignore or even be unaware of their ideas. And if our plans seem to be working out well, we don’t feel the need to look beyond our own social and geographical borders for other people’s ideas. We believe that success comes naturally from within and always will.

For personal disruption we should make a sustained effort to experience other cultures by networking outside our usual realm either professionally or even geographically.

Despite what its name and description might suggest, the S-curve of disruption isn’t actually a smooth, continuous, onwards-and-upwards growth process. Disruption by definition involves moving sideways, back, or down, with all the negative connotations that conjures, in order to move forward. Furthermore, you might need to make course corrections, so reversing or moving in a new direction are key parts of the disruption process.

You can do this in a planned way by deciding in advance what you hope to gain from the process – “a sort of business plan for your backward move.”

For personal disruption, as a manager, you might decide to allow employees to rotate into each other’s roles, knowing that in the short term, there may be an impact on revenue. But in the long term, the ideas and experience that flow from this could deliver big rewards.

Sometimes too there is failure. Whenever we start something new there is this fantasy of a perfectly linear world. Sometimes dreams come true. And sometimes they don’t.

Paraphrasing John Milton: “the mind is its own place, it can make up heaven or hell, a hell or heaven”. “The mind is its own place”.

Personal disruptors can see success in every failure and a failure in every success. As you climb up your learning curve what will you make of your success?

As a disruptor you are on a journey to discover a yet to be defined world. You are taking on a market risk where no one else has played. This requires an emergent strategy.

It is about continually learning or as Aristotle famously said, “teaching is the highest form of understanding.”


Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Beauty is the moment of transition, as if the form were just ready to flow into other forms.” But when one has just to a new curve, plunging into the abyss of a transition, beauty isn’t the first word that comes to mind.

In music, a transition is defined as a moment of modulation, a passing from one key to the next. In physics, it’s described as a change, which results in the transformation of physical properties such as ice to water to steam. When we write an essay, it’s the sentence or passage that connects one topic to the next. More generally, trans means “a going across.” Whether we are transplanting or transacting, exchanging the old for a reimagined self, the classic S-Curve can help us navigate the transition.

The more you disrupt, the better you’ll get at it. Like surfing, it is incredibly hard at first. But with practice, it becomes exhilarating.

Learning is not linear, but exponential: there is a cumulative and compounding effect. If you do something disruptive today, then the probability that you can be disruptive tomorrow increases. Momentum begets momentum.

Staying with what you already know may seem like the safest thing to do, but as Saul Kaplan, chief catalyst at the Business Innovation Factory said: “My life has been about searching for the steep learning curve because that is where I do my best work. When I do my best work, money and stature have always followed.”

Like a novice trapeze artist letting go of the old to leap to the new, we are sure to experience a moment of mid air terror. But we are far less likely to fall if we fling ourselves onto the next curve. And, in the seemingly terrible moment of transition, your dreams – the engine of disruption – will buoy you.

Are you ready to jump?

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