Forbes | This CEO Really Does Swim With Sharks

With Warren Buffett at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit (Courtesy Sue Chen)

Sue Chen is the CEO of NOVA Medical Products, a design and manufacturing firm producing stylish health and mobility aids for the aging or infirm. Chen founded this successful and innovative company at the age of 23! She also is the Co-Founder of Operation Blue Pride, which facilitates the reintegration of returning service members, and supports their physical and mental health healing through participation in scuba diving. She engages in complementary environmental issues by serving on the Board of Directors of Shark Savers and Reef Check Foundation, both committed to the health of the oceans and their inhabitants. She is also a role model for flourishing in a state of being she calls Happy Chaos, and blogs on the subject for the benefit of all who find work/life balance an elusive achievement.

sue_with_emma_the_shark

Sue Chen with Emma the Shark (Courtesy Matt Heath)

Pivotal Moment of Reinvention

It was when I hit a bottom in my life – personally and professionally. At 36, I was engaged, in love and an invincible CEO. One year later, I was in a miserable marriage, feeling like the most vulnerable CEO on the planet and on the brink … I don’t know. I was living in a bottomless pain and darkness I had never known.

My epiphany in this place was that I owned my emotional bucket. So, there was hope. It was the same bucket, where I could rediscover and reignite the love and passion through the most powerful source for everyone’s bucket – meaningful connections. I connected with my customers, my mission, my family, friends, employees, planet – and that reconnected me back to my loves, passion and myself.

Best networking contact

Sir Richard Branson. He was kind enough to come out for the Operation Blue Pride shark expedition. Sir Branson is a tremendous leader and advocate for our oceans and sharks. He taught me about graciousness, courage, adventure and about LISTS. As I was making my TO DO list for my new mission and organization – Operation Blue Pride — and feeling a bit overwhelmed, he said, “Keep on those lists. I make lists for all of my ventures. You make lists and cross things off. Keep making lists and crossing things off until you’ve got something good.”

British entrepreneur Richard Branson (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Valuable Sponsor/Mentor

My mother—my one woman cheerleading squad. No one comes close. If you asked my mother this question she would say, without hesitation, her mother. I’ve had crazy ideas and big plans and passions and my mother supported the projects regardless of cultural barriers. I had many “firsts” as a Taiwanese girl and woman: president of my high school class, producing a documentary and being the first woman Membership Chair and now Education Chair of my YPO Chapter. I’m here today because of three women – my mother and my two grandmothers. They paved a path that gave me infinite opportunities.

Moonshot Goal

To transform and save the Home Medical Equipment industry, which has been stagnant and declining for decades with very little product innovation and the highest dissatisfaction rates of any healthcare products sector. A symbol of this is the grey walker with tennis ball feet, developed in 1965 with dirty tennis balls never meant for walkers. The dysfunction has been fueled by drastic Medicare cuts and regulations forcing thousands of independent Home Medical Equipment (HME) providers out of business and leaving the rest paralyzed in uncertainty.

I’m not just transforming and disrupting my industry, but imploding and exploding it. I’m doing much more than making great products and saving an industry; I’m changing the cultural stigma towards people with physical challenges and physical differences.

In the past 20 years, I’ve been making beautiful, sexy, stylish and empowering medical equipment and leading campaigns such as Lose the Tennis Balls; Bathroom Safety Fall Prevention Challenge and Mobility Makeovers. I created a program called HME180 that takes the dealer from a Medicare/insurance business model to consumer direct retail – and it’s working for many small businesses who share a mission to improve the lives of millions of Americans.

First Job? Second Job?

Even though we were the only Taiwanese family in my hometown of Davie, Florida there was a Chinese Restaurant. We never ate there, but I felt like I could get a job there … supply and demand.  So, I when I turned 14 and showed up at the New Canton Chinese Restaurant, requesting a job, I was hired on the spot!

Second job?  Yep. Chinese restaurant again.

sue-chen-child

As a young girl (courtesy Sue Chen)

Unplug–Do you?

I love ocean life and classical music and these passions are a dynamic and meaningful part of my life. I’m an avid diver, ocean and shark conservationist and underwater photographer. I’m a classical music aficionado and student. These two incredible worlds of beauty allow me to refuel, recharge and reinvent with clarity and new perspectives. Both of these passions were seeded from childhood, one semi-forced and one seemingly organic.  Recently, another childhood seed has come to life.  This country kid from Davie, FL who grew up as my dad’s farmer sidekick, is now a proud owner/farmer of a Hazelnut Orchard.  So, I guess I unplug, by plugging back into who I am – past, present and future.

Your Cause

I want to improve the lives of millions of Americans facing the greatest fear of aging – loss of independence . People want to remain active and independent on their own terms and in their own homes. Falling is the 5th leading cause of death for Americans over 65. Most of these falls can be prevented with information, education and some basic products. I’ve become a certified instructor in Fall Prevention and Mobility Optimization so I can educate healthcare providers and consumers.

Best piece of advice

A few months after I started my company a family friend and great entrepreneur, Chris Schmid, said to me, “If you’re going to do something big, be sure to have partners. Real partners … because with partners, the good times are so much better and the bad times not as bad.” The joy of sharing the highs, and comfort in facing the lows, has kept my company going, surviving and thriving.

Secret indulgence

Playing on my Bosendorfer Grand piano.  I don’t deserve such a great piano and it deserves a better pianist, one that can perform for others. A failed piano competition when I was 14 left me with piano performance anxiety and I still struggle playing in front of others. So, I indulge secretly and happily.


This post originally published at Forbes

Forbes | The Other Half Of ‘Shondaland’ You Never Knew Existed

Betsy Beers arrives at ELLE's 6th annual Women in Television celebration at the Sunset Tower Hotel on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Shonda Rhimes is the famous face associated with her eponymous production company, Shondaland, but Rhimes herself has said that “Betsy Beers is one half of Shondaland. People like to think it is all me but…I’m the Shonda and she is the Land. She’s one half of the team. And while she may not be the visible half, she’s a very powerful half.”

Beers did not set out to be a television producer; she wanted to be an actress. It had been her dream since she was 5. But at about age 30, she says, “It was dawning on me that performing was not the best job for me, but I was struggling with the decision….I wanted it so badly I couldn’t see that my personality was not well suited to the job.” She had recently relocated from New York to Los Angeles, and was not getting parts as an actress, nor, as a waitress, the usual go-to profession for aspiring actors. At a friend’s suggestion she sought work as a freelancer, reading scripts and providing notes on them. One of her freelance gigs was with a movie studio, where she quickly landed a full-time position.

Though the studio’s days were numbered, Beers made an excellent connection in the person of senior executive, Ruth Vitale. When the studio closed, and Vitale moved on, she carved out a new position for Beers. “I owe her a lot,” Beers says. “It was there I really learned how to pitch and develop screenplays.”

These days it is she who is a Hollywood power player. “In this industry of young white men…in a world in which that should mean she’s an outsider, she has thrived,” says production partner Rhimes. A role model to younger women, Rhimes praises Beers as “a role model for more mature women as well. I’ve watched her, quietly and without fanfare, take it upon herself to offer her mentorship, her time and her energy to several women who find themselves in the process of big career changes.”

Women who lead this way not only help others learn how certain jobs are done, but also how careers evolve and even how life is creatively and happily lived, throughout its challenges and disruptions. The realization that one is not particularly good at a passion can be a painful one, as Beers learned with acting, but it can also open windows and doors on unexpected and unexplored strengths. She now advises, “Never be frightened to admit you don’t know what you are doing. When you ask for help, you learn something. And most people love to be asked.”

As a producer, Beers has achieved tremendous success. She has been nominated three times for the Television Producer of the Year Award by the Producers Guild of America. With her fellow producers she has received Producer of the Year Award, 2007 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series Drama, and 2006 and 2007 Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, for the immensely popular Grey’s Anatomy, currently renewed for its 13th season. Other series she produces include Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder (the vehicle by which Viola Davis made African-American Emmy history, winning the award for Lead Actress in a Drama Series) and The Catch, a new mystery series entering its second season.
Rhimes provides some final insight on her partner: “Betsy never rests. We’re constantly in discussions about how to move Shondaland forward. But she’s also constantly in discussions about how to move BETSY forward. How to change, how to move in new directions, how to refocus and how to push.”

This post originally published at Forbes

Christine Vick–A Life Lived Simply and Well

Recently, a woman in her mid-twenties shared with me, “After being diagnosed with cancer, I’m trying to figure out how to disrupt myself!”

Wait.
Hold on.
Having cancer is disrupting yourself.
As well as everyone else who loves you.

Sometimes you jump to a new curve.
Sometimes you are pushed.
In either case, it is an opportunity to grow.
For you.
And for the people who love you.

Today, I am feeling disrupted by the death of Christine Vick.

She was young.
In her 40s.
Died of cancer.
I didn’t know her well.
But many of my dear friends did.
They loved her deeply.
The stories they tell, that her husband and children will tell;
The meaning they make of their lives;
Will be very different
Because Christine died young.

In memoriam, I am republishing her essay, originally published on May 31, 2009, which was featured in Dare, Dream, Do.

***

My college self would be disappointed with my life today.

Back then, I had it all mapped out:  graduate in three years with a B.A. in English (check).  Serve a mission for the L.D.S. church (check).  Get an M.A. in English Literature (check).

But then I started to go off course:  Get a PhD (ummm…)  Secure a tenure track position by the time I'm 28 (ummm…again).  Have three kids (oops, four) and a white picket fence (nope).

Turns out my 18 year-old self couldn't see the whole picture.  Like that I'd be burned out by academia after my master's degree and feel miserable about applying for PhD programs.  Or that I'd quite like what I imagined then would be very mundane tasks:  cooking, decorating, organizing and hanging out with my kids.  I rarely say this out loud, but I don't even mind cleaning (except for doing the laundry–which is my Achilles heel).

Christine Vick by LaNola Stone Image courtesy of and copyrighted by LaNola Kathleen Stone.

When I was younger, I dismissed any field or career that was less than rigorously academic as “fluff”.  I don't know where I got this idea, because my parents have encouraged all my efforts and never pushed me in any direction. Nevertheless, this philosophy guided my early decisions and left me feeling like a failure when I found my studies unfulfilling.

By the second year of my MA program, I was unhappy, frustrated and fed up, but I couldn't admit (even to myself) that I wanted to quit.  The dream of being a professor had always defined me, and letting it go made me panic.  What would I do?  How could my life be relevant?

Pride played a big role too.  I'd always been so vocal about my goals (I'm still learning the value of saying less, a lot less) that I was just plain embarrassed not to follow through.  Especially when my fellow students were busy being accepted into PhD programs across the country.

My pain eased a bit when I moved East and took a part-time job with a small community newspaper.  I was no longer surrounded by academics and it became clear that most people aren't concerned with the roles of Renaissance women, applying continental philosophy to modern texts or deconstructing old English manuscripts.  They're just trying to earn a living, balance hectic lives, and find a little free time.

Two years ago I was approached by a friend of a friend who was starting her own magazine about organizing (a favorite topic and hobby of mine).  She was looking for part-time editors and wondered if I'd be interested.

I said yes immediately.

One of the highlights of the job was a trip to North Carolina to interview the Flylady, Marla Cilley.  It was my first “business” trip, albeit with my 6 month-old in tow.  I enjoyed meeting Cilley who was fun, vivacious and full of empathy, hanging out with my boss, eating out, overcoming my fear of prop planes, and seeing the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.  It actually seemed more like a vacation than work, since I normally spend my days in Cinderella mode;  scrubbing, cooking, chauffeuring and trying to be patient with lots of little people with lots of needs.

christine-vick-son-lanola-stoneImage courtesy of and copyrighted by LaNola Kathleen Stone.

Being a part of Organize not only gave me the experience to start my own website Store and Style, it taught me a valuable lesson:  for a task to be valuable, it doesn't have to be weighty, solemn, or make history.

It just has to be important to me.  If it's fun too, even better.

I love editing–knowing what to add, move around or rework so an article shines. I love organizing–helping people see how a little order can make life easier and more enjoyable.  And I love making school lunches, reading to my son on the front porch while waiting for the bus, baking cookies and painting my daughter's fingernails.  Lucky for me, my life can encompass all of these activities.

Looking back, I'm glad I didn't pressure myself into starting a PhD program–I know I would have quit.

I'm also glad my college self is no longer in charge.

A Delightful Afternoon With My Daughter

I’m a workaholic.
I used to deny it. But I am.

I intend to carve out big chunks of time with my son and daughter.
But then I don't.

Though I am getting better.
Recently, my 15 year-old daughter had a swim meet.
We left home at 4pm.
The meet ran from 6pm – 9pm.

There was a lot of waiting.
But I got to cheer for my daughter who is new to competitive swimming.

We talked.
We hung out.
We saw this amazing cloud.

Stuart's Draft Drive w/ My Daughter

We arrived home happy and connected.
Going was the hardest thing I did all day — it is so hard to pull myself away from the comfort of work!

But now I have a day — not in my life — but in hers.

How Your Brain Processes Disruption: Interview with Dr. Tara Swart

I recently spoke with Dr. Tara Swart –”the only leadership coach with a PhD in neuroscience”–about the essential things we should know about how our brain processes and retains new skills and experiences.

Here are my five key takeaways:

  1. Take the tiger by the tail. When we try something new, our brain sees this new thing as predator. An animal in the wild. But we can tell it that is isn’t, but thinking about how we have dared to disrupt in the past, when we made a calculated move to step back or sideways despite many people thinking we had lost our minds, and then that sideways turned into a slingshot. And if that’s not possible. Then look for someone who has done what you want to do, whether taking on a new role, becoming a parent, traveling abroad for the first time, or starting a business. Understanding our brain helps us say, I’ve seen that tiger before, and grab it by the tail.
  1. Change requires perseverance. Period. Especially at the beginning. When you don’t yet have enough information to know if it’s hard, but not frustrating, because it will be hard AND frustrating. The good news is that trying new things is something your brain can be trained to do. Whether it’s Tara learning Danish. Or me saying yes, rather than no, the next time my husband and daughter invite me to go fishing. So I suppose it’s not just learning something new requires resolve, but learning to learn does too.
  1. We tend to undervalue what we are – because of evolution. When we play to our strengths, or what we do reflexively well, we are calm. Unguarded. Which puts us in danger. Because our brains are much more averse to losing a little, than gaining a lot. But if we can reprogram our brain, write new code, that involves self-belief, and that there’s relative safety, in trying something new. Then we are more likely to play to our strengths. And in turn, be more successful.
  1. Our bodies really do affect our brains. We hear this a lot. But I think most of us tend to emotionally disconnect from our body. To live in our head. But if we will get enough sleep, eat food that is good for us – like with my no cookies, candy and cake in 2016 – drink more water, and be more mindful, including disconnecting. Meditating just 12 minutes. Disconnecting from our smart devices. Our brains will give us permission to try new things – and to allow us to choose how we will respond to a situation rather than our instincts just taking over.
  1. Why we don’t find the next great thing / idea, even when we think we want to. It’s called Unconscious Bias. It is meant to protect us. And as a bodyguard or the brain’s body man, it does a superb job.  But in order to think creatively, this bodyguard has to let our unconscious biases take a vacation. It’s a lot easier to do when we are rested, hydrated, and our life is simplified so that our brain has the capacity, like RAM in our computer to process new ideas, people and even dreams.

If you'd like to receive notice when my podcast launches, e-mail me at whitney at whitneyjohnson dot com and say “Sign me up”.

Are You Prevention or Promotion-Focused?

prevention

Dreaming is at the heart of disruption and because I believe this to be true, I was confident that I was promotion, rather than prevention focused.

Except that after finishing up a webinar and not being at all happy with how it went, my husband, the truth teller, said to me, “You are far more effective in preparing for any kind of public presentation when you ask yourself how much do I need to prepare to make sure that I don't bomb?”

How's that for a bomb? Because he was right.

In the midst of this event, I refreshed my memory on what being promotion versus prevention focused meant. Those who are promotion-focused, according to Tory Higgins and Heidi Grant-Halvorson, are motivated by the amazing things that will happen if they take the leap to a new learning curve. Being prevention-focused implies you’re more concerned with what will happen if you stand still.

I work best when I prepare for all the things that could go wrong. In the case of the webinar, I could’ve prepped by making a checklist of potential problems — my audio could fail, I wouldn’t have access to the best internet connection, my deck would get stuck on a specific slide because of a glitch. But, instead, I opted for being promotion-focused.

I suspect that there are areas of my life where being promotion-focused is ideal. It's probably a continuum where we are some interesting amalgam of promotion and prevention focused. But I wonder if when we think we are one thing, it's because we want to be and not necessarily because we are. It’s essential to analyze our behavior and audit where we stand and what each situation calls for.

Understanding whether you’re prevention-focused or promotion-focused could potentially help you walk into situations with a bit more confidence. The good news is that whether you try something new because it will be fun, or because you are afraid of the consequences of standing still, you’re still trying it. Sometimes, it doesn't matter why you are motivated, but that you are.

And that you jump.


 

If you'd like to receive twice monthly updates from me, leave a comment below and say sign me up. Or e-mail me at whitney at whitneyjohnson dot com, and say ‘sign me up.'

#DisruptYourself Interview With Jessica Jackley, Co-Founder of Kiva

cimage_a6c80765b3-thumbc

Chatting with Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, social entrepreneur at large, and mom of three rowdy, tiny boys, for this interview really helped me gain insight into how she's disrupting herself. Jessica's book Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most With the Least was released in 2015.

Below are my four quick questions with @jessicajackley:

What do you wish someone would DARE you to do?

I don't feel like I need anyone to dare me to do anything!  But I'm always happy for excuses to meet people I wouldn't have otherwise. So perhaps it'd be something that involved talking to perfect strangers about something that matters to them.

What do you DREAM of doing?

In many ways I'm right in the middle of fulfilling so many of my dreams: getting Clay Water Brick out, being a mother to my wonderful boys, etc. I think I need to take some time in the next few months and dream up a new round of aspiration, but, I'm really very content right now, and feel like I'm at a bit of a pinnacle moment in my life.

What are you going to DO in the next year?

Stay present. I want to practice gratitude for what I've been given, this amazing life I have, on a daily basis. Which is a whole lot: rich relationships, work that I love and that has deep meaning to me, good health, and much else.

How did you #DisruptYourself by writing Clay Water Brick?

I put a lot of my story “out there” for the world to know. While I have nothing to hide, it still feels surprisingly vulnerable. But it feels very empowering too!
[Tweet this.]

What most struck me about Jessica's answers is that she is trying to be a harbor and a ship.

What about you?


Sign up for my newsletter to get #DisruptYourself interviews right in your inbox or comment below and say ‘sign me up.'

It’s Time To Reality Check Your Resolutions

DtE5FaWzSrOvwnFojEYg_Javier Calvo 004_grande

With the beginning of March comes the time to reality check our resolutions.

At the beginning of every new year, our thoughts turn to making resolutions: this year I will lose that extra weight, drink less alcohol, give up sugar, get out of debt. All worthy goals, but why do we perennially return to resolutions that seem based on the idea of fixing all the things we’re doing “wrong?”

You can’t know what resolution you need until you know what your objective is. In photography, the resolution of the image is entirely dependent on the output you want. If you’re looking at an image on your computer monitor, 72 dpi (dots per inch) is fine, but if you want to print that image, you’ll need a much higher resolution, say 240 dpi. If you then want to make that image into a billboard, you actually need a relatively lower dpi, because the further away you are from it, the more your eyes will blend the colors for you, as with a Georges Seurat painting.

And that is why I believe we’ve got it backwards when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. Instead of kicking-off our resolutions in January and February and making our only measure of success whether or not we “fixed” all the wrongs, let’s take some time to figure out what our objectives really are.

Start off by dreaming.

While resolutions are about “shoulds,” dreaming is about hope — and who we may become. Dreaming is at the heart of disruption — it is only when we dream that we can hope to create something truly new, something that will overtake old habits, old customs, and old ways of thinking and being. And we all know by now that a disruptive path leads to a greater measure of success.

According to psychologist Timothy Pychyl (in his article “Teenagers, Identity Crises and Procrastination“) “until we have a vision of who we are and who we want to become, we can’t accomplish much.” Pychyl explains the interconnectedness between identity and agency as follows: “Identity is that knowledge of who we are. Agency is the belief that we are in control of our decisions and responsible for our outcomes. It means we make a difference; we make things happen, we act on the world. Thus, being an active agent depends on identity, or knowing who we are.”

In other words, the more you know who you are, the less likely you are to procrastinate. And the more we dream ourselves into becoming who we want to be, the closer we’ll come to accomplishing our resolutions.

If you’ve already made a few resolutions, these might provide some clues as to what your deeper dreams are.

Especially if those resolutions were made while gazing fixedly into your personal Mirror of Erised — a mirror that, as Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling describes, “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” When Professor Dumbledore discovers Harry entranced, he explains why the mirror is so beguiling (and dangerous): “You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible….”

I suspect that most of us have a desperate desire of our heart, something we may even deserve that we don’t or can’t have.

When you take a moment to look at the “why” of a resolution, you may find the fierce desire that fuels it. Harry Potter, for example, can’t have his parents, but he can be beloved. Inside of the something you can’t have, there is often the makings of something you can achieve.

And what better time to be plumbing our deepest desires for dreams and planting the seeds of our personal disruption than the shortest days of the year. For “the shadow is the seat of creativity,” wrote Carl Jung.

After a few weeks, possibly even a month of inner reflection, the resolutions required to make your dream a reality will become evident. And rather than procrastinating, or worse, chucking your resolve after a few days or weeks, this year you may actually see your resolutions through. You may even discover that some of your pesky wrongs have inadvertently been righted.

So resolutionize away.

But start with your dreams.


 

If you'd like to get twice monthly updates from me, leave a comment below, and say ‘sign me up'.

Colleges Understand Diversity is Fundamental to Innovation. Why Aren’t Companies Taking Note?

Harvard University is involved in a dispute with Asian-American advocacy groups concerning undergraduate admission. The dispute stems from the fact that the average GPA, class rank and SAT scores for Asian-Americans is significantly higher than for any other demographic. Moreover, while the percentage of those identifying as Asian-American has increased in the United States, has nearly doubled over the last 20 years, the percentage of Asian-Americans being admitted to Harvard has not changed. On the basis of these facts, Asian Americans are being discriminated against in the University’s admissions process.

Some agree that Harvard’s diversity policy is out of step. This sentiment was summed up by Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel, “Harvard would say there are benefits to…putting different groups of people together. The problem is it is very hard to demonstrate the benefits.” She’s correct. It is incredibly difficult to prove the benefits of diversity. For example, many, including me, have touted a study published in the journal Science by Anita Woolley et al as evidence of the benefits of diversity: the inclusion of women in groups raised their collective intelligence and their ability to solve problems, with group performance being positively correlated with the proportion of females in the group.

diversity clucks

However, in the conclusion of the paper the authors suggest that better performance might not be related to females per se. Further analysis indicated it was social sensitivity that was a statistically significant contributor to group performance. So was this a false positive? Did group performance improve because of the women, or was it social sensitivity? This leads to the much broader question – is diversity really beneficial?

Given the complexity of humans and interpersonal interactions, it may well be impossible to design and conduct an experiment that unequivocally proves the merits of diversity in education, business and society. But is there really no evidence that demonstrates the benefits of diversity? For biologists, this question was answered long ago — diversity is one of the most powerful forces in nature, a fundamental requirement for evolution. Furthermore, nature is apolitical. It is neither republican nor democrat. It has no philosophy, nor is it swayed by political platforms. It doesn’t care what any committee, study group or research report has to say. It just cares what works. Biology cannot be biased because it is completely controlled by scientific laws that govern the universe. And those laws dictate that diversity drives evolution.

diversity motherboards

An understanding of the history of evolution emphasizes the importance of diversity. 3.5 billion years ago, as our common universal ancestor emerged from earth’s prebiotic milieu, it confronted numerous environments in which it was incapable of surviving. To subjugate seas and conquer continents, it had to adapt. What mechanism did our evolutionary ancestor hire to do this job? Diversity. As our ancestors reproduced genetic alterations arose due to inaccurate DNA replication and repair, sometimes resulting in organisms that were more fit for survival. Repeated over and over again through millennia resulted is a stunning, nearly unimaginable, array of life forms that inhabit almost every environment and utilize almost every resource. Diversity, it turns out, is what ensures survival, seizes opportunity and fuels evolution.

In the context of driving corporate innovation, this is certainly true. It is the organization whose individuals can successfully ride the S-curve waves of learning and mastering, who are adept at personal disruption that have a competitive advantage. With every jump to a new curve, you are iterating. The next generation you is slightly different, or in biological terms, mutated, better poised to catch the next wave of opportunity. Said Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

diversity hands

The difficulty with all of this – is that for every organism that survives, there is one that dies – companies go defunct, jobs are lost, and academic dreams dashed. I may be a vociferous proponent for diversification in investing, confident that investor returns will improve as more women gain access to venture capital beyond the current woeful 10%. And yet, I know what it’s like to not be quite fit for survival. Thirty years ago, I watched my lifelong dream of going to Stanford hit the skids, even as one of my less academically qualified classmates from a minority group was accepted.

There are no easy answers around the diversity question. In the intense competition for resources, it is a zero sum game. But whether our earliest ancestors, a university, corporation, you or me, when we get what we need, biology would suggest we’ve got the diversity equation right. When we don’t, we will be subject to the unforgiving laws of evolution: survival of the fittest, indeed.

This piece was co-authored with Roger Johnson who holds a PhD in microbiology from Columbia University, and is a former assistant professor at UMass Medical School.

If you liked this piece, and would like to receive bi-monthly updates, including tips on disruption, and occasional giveaways, including 15 minute 1-on-1 sessions, sign up for my newsletter on the right side of the page.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

During the holidays, we watched The Hundred-Foot Journey, in which the Kadam family has taken asylum in Europe due to election disputes in Mumbai, India.  After an initial stay in England, they wander their way to a small village in France on the border of Switzerland.  The father purchases an abandoned restaurant across the street — a hundred feet away — from an upscale French restaurant.  Much of the film, a comedy, is about the rivalry between the two restaurateurs.

What my caught my attention, from the perspective of disruption, is Hassan, the second oldest son.  Hassan is a talented chef whose specialty is, not surprisingly, Indian cooking. But to gain stature as a chef, Hassan must master the French tradition.  Only once he's mastered the pay-to-play skill of French cuisine can he infuse it with Indian spices and flavors.  This French-Indian fusion is his distinctive strength (what he does well that others within his sphere don't) and wins him the industry's coveted Michelin star.

hundredfootjourney

More personal, and poignant for me, is the relationship between Hassan and Marguerite, the sous chef, at the neighboring French restaurant.  A romance blossoms. She becomes his dream whisperer.  Hassan is a talented chef, no question.  But it is, in part, because of Marguerite's tutelage that Hassan's career soars — ahead of hers.

When Hassan is invited to cook in Paris and shares the news, Marguerite is genuinely happy for him, but she's hurt.  Hassan has acknowledged her as his love (e.g. women can only be feminine with the context of a relationship), but he hasn't seen her as a person, a chef in her own right.

In Paris, plaudits accumulate, but Hassan is despondent.  Only when he returns home and partners with Marguerite professionally and personally, are they both happy.  Marguerite and Hassan are terrific examples of what Carl Jung meant by each of us developing both sides of our pscyhe, the feminine capacity for love, and the masculine ability to achieve.

Have you seen The Hundred Foot Journey? 

What did you think?


Contact Us

Fill out this form and we will follow up to create a customized plan to help you build a smart growth organization.

Media & Press Inquiries

including requesting Whitney as a guest on your podcast

Media & Press Inquiries arrow_forward

Gain insight into growth, adaptability and agility

Download our free resources outlining the Accelerants of Growth—including books, podcasts and TEDtalks to help you move up your S Curve of Learning.