233. Jacqueline Novogratz: When the Work Gets Hard, Look For Beauty

When we talk about starting a new S-curve, few exemplify this better than Jacqueline Novogratz. She upended her successful career in international banking to focus on addressing global poverty through the impact investment organization Acumen. Her journey is extraordinary, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking.

Jacqueline and Whitney talk about what it takes to have a “moral imagination,” the foundational work of building a better world. As she puts it, “the opposite of poverty isn't wealth, it's dignity.”

Jacqueline explains why top-down and bottom-up solutions lack the nuance to effect lasting change, and how she learned to leverage her privilege, rather than distance herself from it. And when extreme poverty and violence make everything feel futile, Jacqueline reminds us to look for beauty wherever we can find it. “Beauty reminds us why we're here to do the hard work.”

If Jacqueline’s work inspired you, learn more about how to be a changemaker at: https://acumenacademy.org/

Continued below…

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Jacqueline Novogratz's Books

232. Astrid Tuminez: Nobody Is “Self-Made”

Dr. Astrid Tuminez is the first female president of Utah Valley University, and her journey is incredibly inspiring.

Born in the Philippines and raised in extreme poverty, Tuminez made pivotal choices and gained important mentors which led her to the U.S. Her passion for international relations made her an influential voice of peace at the height of the Cold War.

In her conversation with Whitney, Astrid explains how she got comfortable with failure, and how the kindness of teachers completely changed her life. “No person in this world is self-made. Somebody along the way did something for you,” she says.

She shares the three most important decisions in her life, the benefits of getting fired, and a key lesson from martial arts: “Be a limp noodle.”

Continued below…

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231. Mike Rowe: Why I Chose Projects Doomed to Fail

TV host, author, and podcaster Mike Rowe would have been a construction worker if not for advice from his grandfather: “Find a different toolbox.”

Turns out, Mike wasn't great with his hands, but his grandfather and other mentors recognized different skills. They pushed him out of his comfort zone and in front of microphones and cameras.

Today, Mike's wildly popular “Dirty Jobs” TV series has shown millions of viewers what it takes to do extraordinary jobs that don’t get talked about on “Career Day,” but are critical to a well-functioning society. And Rowe credits a lot of his success to multiple failures. The show itself was born out of a TV news segment gone wrong.

In this episode, Mike and Whitney discuss the unusual mindset of his early career: He sought out bad ideas and was happy to get paid to work on projects that were doomed to fail. Removing the stakes freed him up to experiment and take risks, which led to much more interesting projects.

Mike also discusses the importance of music in his life, and how a conclave of war veterans singing sad barbershop songs changed his perspective. “It was so uncool I was fascinated by it.”

What did you learn from this conversation with Mike? What risks are you taking these days, and what are your fears about them? Email Whitney Johnson at wj@whitneyjohnson.com for a chance to receive a signed copy of Mike's book, “The Way I Heard It.”

Continued below…

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Key Takeaways From This Episode

1. Find a different toolbox: The advice Mike got from his grandfather was so important, but can sometimes be hard to hear. Convincing Mike to apply his skills elsewhere was a life-changing gift, and we can all thank his grandfather for that!

2. Get uncomfortable: When his music teacher assigned him a solo despite his speech impediment, Mike said he felt “threatened, frightened, and profoundly uncomfortable.” And yet that push was key to getting him out of his shell, and set him on the path to performing arts. Often, moments of extreme discomfort and uncertainty lead to great things.

3. It can be good to seek failure: Mike shared his unusual mindset: He looked for bad ideas and was happy to get paid to work on projects that were doomed to fail. This removed all the stakes and freed him up to experiment and take risks. And some of those dirty risks led to dirty jobs.

Ways to connect with Mike Rowe

230. Chris Dancy: Use Tech to Be More Human

Chris Dancy's life used to be a lot different. Back in 2008, he weighed more than 300 pounds, smoked two packs and drank 36 cans of Diet Coke a day. But he had one disruptive skill in his back pocket.

As a database engineer, he's obsessive about tracking information. And when he put the lens on himself, it changed everything. By tracking every aspect of his life (food, feelings, TV, social media posts, etc.) he collected “big data” on himself, the way a tech company would. Using a variety of sensors, apps, and home-brewed systems, Dancy harnessed his habits and completely disrupted his life.

Today, he's an author and speaker who warns against the dangerous discourse that technology is “breaking” people. Instead, he says “don't unplug,” and explains how the systems that suck our attention and data can be reverse-engineered to make our lives better, and ultimately make us more human. “Today's technology is engineered around reactions, not feelings,” he says, and shows us that it's within our power to change that.

In this extraordinary and emotional conversation, Dancy discusses how our culture weaponizes time, looking back at your own emotional data, his mother's gift that changed everything, and training yourself to schedule things like “kindness” and saying “I love you.” In his own words, “we need to stop valuing our schedule and schedule our values.”

Continued below…

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Key takeaways from this episode:

1. Screens aren't evil. There is nothing wrong with technology. It’s the way it is engineered. It sets us up not to feel but to react. If we harness tech properly, it can make us even more human.

2. “We need to stop valuing our schedule and schedule our values.” How are we finding ways to measure what we care about? Are the reminders on our phone not to go somewhere, but to tell someone that we love them, for example?

3. We don’t download apps, we download habits. Framing tech this way is powerful.

4. A procrastination lifehack: Put on music you’ve never heard. And since I’ve been procrastinating doing the final edits on my book, I’m about to listen to some new music!

Ways to connect with Chris Dancy

229. Sally Helgesen: How Women Can Harness the Language of Achievement

The proverbial “glass ceiling” is real, and can block women from reaching their full potential. There is a lot of work to be done here, but not all women are in a position to effect systemic change.

So what can women (and their allies) do in their daily lives and careers to close the gap? That's the subject of Sally Helgesen's book, How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job.

Helgesen's groundbreaking research with thousands of women and companies over 30+ years reveals the fascinating differences between genders in the workplace, and the reasons some women struggle to claim credit for their achievements and vocalize their career aspirations — habits that often come more naturally to men.

In a corporate culture where achievements are rarely valued unless you shout them from the rooftops, women constantly balance perceptions of being “too aggressive” and not advocating for themselves enough.

Helgesen says, “why not both?” And she shares practical advice for women navigating these tricky waters.

Continued below…

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • We can't deny systemic bias, but we have the tools to overcome it on a daily basis by advocating for ourselves.
  • Misplaced loyalty: Sometimes we don't want to jump to a new S Curve because we're worried about our team or manager. But often, growing into a position of authority can help the team you love working with.
  • Women and men tend to be different––women tend to perceive themselves differently on their own S Curves. Women, don't be shy about claiming mastery when you've earned it!
  • We have made progress: There's always more work to do, but Sally's research shows us how far we've come over the last 30 years.

228. Take the Right Kinds of Risks (Encore)

If you've already answered the question we posed in episode 80 (Why should you disrupt yourself in the first place?), then it's time to revisit risk, the first accelerant of personal disruption.

In this encore episode, Whitney discusses why not all risk is created equal, and why taking the right risks can have huge upsides.

If this podcast is valuable to you, email Whitney at wj@whitneyjohnson.com. She responds to every one.

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227. Katy Milkman: How to Change, According to Science

There's a lot of common wisdom around building good habits: stick to a schedule, reject constraints, and seek out great advice.

But science would like a word.

Katy Milkman is an economist and behavioral scientist who has done breakthrough research on how people form (or break) habits. Surprising data from her book, How to Change, shows that flexibility, not routine, is the key to conquering procrastination, exercise, and more.

Environmental changes, even small ones like the start of a new week or a new year (resolutions, anyone?) can be psychologically huge in effecting change. And constraints on creativity often yield better results than unlimited resources.

Science also explains why when it comes to mastering a skill, tis often better to give advice than to receive it.

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Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Fresh Starts: A change of scenery, living space, or even the start of a new week or year can be the catalyst for enormous personal change. Take advantage of it when you need it.
  • Crediting colleagues: Citing others' work regularly is such a powerful sign of security and generosity.
  • Flexible habits: Science says they are more resilient than rigid schedules.
  • Constraints: Be like the knitters from Katy's example. Using less colors can mean bigger creativity.
  • Giving advice can lead to masteryIf someone on your team isn't quite achieving their best, task them with giving advice. Self-reflection is scientifically proven to increase effectiveness.

226. The Power of Discovery-Driven Planning

Reframing failure as a learning experience is so hard to do. But when you can, it's one of the most powerful tools for personal growth.

This week, Whitney explores the value of a discovery-driven mindset through the advice of many past Disrupt Yourself guests, and her own experience.

Knowing where you are on your emotional journey before walking into the unknown removes so much risk. And traditional planning isn't always enough. Discovery-driven planning is a different, and often more flexible way to embark.

Whitney also discusses testing your assumptions by setting milestones, and why sometimes the bravest thing you can do is just show up.

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225. Ray Wang: Don’t Compete, Create

In an economy dominated by tech giants, growing your business to compete with Amazon or Google can feel futile. But Ray Wang thinks differently about this challenge.

Wang is the founder and chairman of Constellation Research, a Silicon Valley advisory firm that finds opportunities for businesses to scale — especially in highly competitive climates. He explains why companies that have won the digital innovation battle have yet to win the war.

From Domino's Pizza, to Honeywell, to Walmart, and even Mom & Pop businesses, Wang shares numerous examples of how successful companies stopped playing their competitors' game, and invented new lines of business they can uniquely own.

Wang also re-thinks personal data as a property right — a simple regulatory shift that would completely disrupt tech in favor of consumers and small businesses.

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • Decision Velocity: The faster you can make decisions, the faster you can make progress.
  • Personal Data as a Property Right: A way to rethink our relationship with tech companies.
  • Data, Data, Data:  Harnessing it without drowning in it is the key to staying competitive.
  • Don't Forget to Leverage What You Already Have: Stop looking at competitors and wishing you had their assets, and start looking for ways to use what already makes your business unique.

224. Brooke Snow: How to Have a Good Bad Day

Brooke Snow is an author, meditation instructor, musician, podcaster, and parent who prefers to define herself by her qualities, rather than any of these roles. Reframing identity as traits (kind, thoughtful, determined) rather than titles allows Brooke to be so much more than the sum of her jobs.

Brooke explains why bad days are actually good when you can recognize your wins (however small), putting floors and ceilings on your daily productivity, where her S Curves as an entrepreneur and a parent inform each other, and why it's not always a bad thing to be “self-centered.”

Learn more about Brooke's work here.

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • Straddling the S Curve: Work informs family, and family informs work.
  • Jealous Trees: Don't compare yourself to others based on what you lack. Celebrate the differences that make you great. 
  • Routines:  Daily routines anchor us. The ability to be thankful as you transition from one task to another can ritualize gratitude and create a positive perspective.
  • How to Have a Good Bad Day: Set yourself up to benefit from a bad outcome and don't be afraid to call an audible. Recognizing small wins from the past is so much healthier than lamenting what you still want to achieve in the future.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:


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