Whitney Johnson is the author of the book, “Disrupt Yourself: Master Relentless Change and Speed Up Your Learning Curve”
First things first, I love this book. If you’re in sales and you’re struggling to improve your performance, and perhaps need some additional motivation to make a change, then you need to read Whitney’s book.
We cover a lot of ground in this conversation. She explains how the S curve of innovative disruption (popularized by Clayton Christensen’s famous book, The Innovator’s Dilemma) can be applied to your personal disruption and transformation. We dig into the psychology and neuroscience related to personal transformation and the factors that drive your motivation to learn. And we talk about why some people feel it’s a big risk to invest in their own development.
Andy Paul: Whitney. Welcome to the show.
Whitney Johnson: Thank you, Andy. I am delighted to be here.
Andy Paul: I’m excited to talk to you cause I liked your book a lot. I know you didn’t write for a sales audience per se, but there’s a lot of very sales specific stuff in there. So I can’t wait to chat with you about it. But one thing I wanted to ask first and hopefully, we’re recording this in the midst of the lockdown, so I didn’t want to omit the formalities, but, or everybody’s healthy on your end?
Whitney Johnson: We are well, thank you for asking. It’s one of those questions that it used to be. Now a real question, isn’t it?
Andy Paul: It is a real question, right? that’s good. And you’re joining us from where again?
Whitney Johnson: We live in Lexington, Virginia. So my husband is a professor at Southern Virginia University, which is also near Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee. So we’re about three hours driving South West of Washington, D C.
Andy Paul: So is that like out near Roanoke then?
Whitney Johnson: Yes. Yes. That’s our closest airport. It’s about 50 miles away.
Andy Paul: Wow. Okay. So having lived in big cities, you’re sort of doing a little more rural, but smaller city living.
Whitney Johnson: It’s definitely rural. We completely disrupted ourselves. If you look outside of our window in the morning, we can see deer and there are cows, next door to us. In fact, when we very first moved here, cause we’ve lived in Boston and Manhattan and large cities. And when we first moved here, I rememberr waking up one morning and I was hitting, not hitting him, but yelling honey, turn off your phone. Cause it was like buzzing, and he turned over and he’s those are the cows mooing. So it has definitely been an adjustment for us.
Andy Paul: Yeah. I find when I’m away from Manhattan, depending where I go, but like when I visit my sister in Wisconsin and both my wife and Igot woken up by the quiet, it’s too quiet and it’s wait, why are we at coronary awake? And you’re so accustomed to having the noise outside all the time that at some level that it’s too quiet. Yeah. It keeps me up.
Whitney Johnson: I love that. Woken up by the quiet.
Andy Paul: So I was going to ask you, are you a fellow soccer fan? Because you wrote that you were going to produce a reality TV show about soccer in Latin America and listeners to the show know that I’m an avid soccer fan.
Whitney Johnson: Oh, I wish I could say that. I am. I just got really excited. So this, this is actually, almost 15 years ago now where I was a huge American Idol fan and a huge, So You Think You Can Dance Dan and I was doing a lot of work in Latin America. I was an equity analyst. And I’ve been to Mexico 50 times, spent a lot of my career doing work a lot in America. And one of our companies that we followed, as an equity analyst was Televisa, which at the time was basically ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox combined. And again, this is 15 years ago. And so we thought, wait, we have an opportunity here to basically do soccer meets American Idol and just got so excited about the stories that could have produced. So while I’m not a soccer fan, per se, I am a Cinderella story fan. And I just thought that could have been an amazing, show to have produced. Yes.
Andy Paul: Yeah. Yeah. I would have watched it for sure. Oh, yeah, yeah, regular listeners get accustomed, me going off on soccer stuff here, tangents, everything relates to soccer. Soccer explains the world. And there was a book that wrote that. So about that.
Whitney Johnson: I think I read that book, actually, it was a good book.
Andy Paul: yeah. Yeah. and I had the author on the show. So we’re gonna talk about transformation, personal transformation.
I’ve really enjoyed your book, which you’ve just, updated and rereleased, Disrupt Yourself: Master Relentless Change and Speed Up Your Learning Curve. So what was the original impetus to write the book?
Whitney Johnson: That’s one of those questions that it’s, you can answer it many times different ways. but let me see if I can streamline so that we’re not here all day long. I wasn’t, as I just mentioned, I was an equity analyst working at Merrill Lynch, in, focusing on stocks in Latin America/
And this is back in like 2003, 2004. I read the book, The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christianson at the Harvard Business School. And I remember reading that book and it just was I think in many, a transformative experience, if you will, because I was looking at wireless at the time and every single quarter America Mobile was beating my numbers.
Like just every time and Telmex his numbers weren’t so that was the wireline company. And then American Mobile was the wireless. And I read the innovator’s dilemma and I’ve said, Oh, That’s what’s going on is that wireless is disrupting wireline. And I was just fascinated that there was this theory that could explain to me the world and help me understand what was happening.
and, but the more I read that book, the more I started, I think maybe just because of my own personal bent, started thinking, how does this apply to me? I understand that this explains products and services and companies and countries, but I also remember having this moment, I think this is 2004.
And I had just had this conversation with, someone in management saying, I’d really like to try something else. I’d like to do something else internally. I’d like to go into management and they laughed at me. Snickered Oh, that’s nice. That’s never going to happen. And I remember coming back to that book and thinking, what if I want to do whatever it is, I think I’m meant to do, which I had a very vague notion. I think many of us do. I’m going to have to disrupt myself. I’m going to have to leave Wall Street and go do something else. And so the impetus for that book was really that. That aha that I had when I was still working on wall street and just starting to chase down that idea, what does it mean to disrupt yourself?
And then I subsequently left. I disrupted myself, I left Wall Street. We were now living in Boston. I connected with Clayton Christianson, working on a bunch of volunteer projects with him. He wanted to start a fund, asked me if I would start that with him and his son. And so as I started to really get steeped in these frameworks of disruption and study at the feet of this giant of a man, I just started really thinking about this idea more and more, and eventually wrote an article in Harvard business review titled Disrupt Yourself, which then later become a book become.
Andy Paul: The book, right?
Whitney Johnson: Yeah.
Andy Paul: And know, we should have mentioned that Clayton just passed away recently.
Whitney Johnson: in January. Yeah. The world lost a really good man.
Andy Paul: Yeah. Yeah. That book also, I was quite taken by it when I first read it, which is quite a while ago. And I’m glad you took it and put it into these personal terms, instead of company examples, but human examples about it, because I look at it from a largely a sales audience on the show, and, but this idea of disrupting yourself as is so fundamental, I think, to certainly sales, but I think perhaps every profession in these days is that, the landscape you’re dealing with is always changing whether it’s the internet or technology or your customer’s behavior is being affected by those things I mentioned, or industries coming and going. And I look at, we really struggle in sales with whole idea about how to, how do people improve, And how do we help people perform at higher levels?
And. Yeah, we don’t have a good mom. to look at that from right. Does is, cause I think that there’s always a, we’re going to it, this assumption that, people fall into these various strata. From bad to good, the A-players to the D layers. When I really think that people really exist within most people exist within a certain band.
You might be some outliers on either end, but it’s the steps they take themselves. That move them out of that band to become that outlier or that top performer and basically everyone has that capability.
Whitney Johnson: I completely agree. I completely agree. I think, it’s interesting whenever we have this conversation, this kind of conversation that you and I are having, because it starts to go to a lot of apriori assumptions or fundamental assumptions that we have about the world and about people. And I think someone like Carol Dweck in her book, Growth M indset, I think has really opened up that conversation. But even so I think that there is so much of how we’re programmed in how we think about the world. We’re like, yes, growth mindset. I believe I can change and grow. And yet when we start to analyze and.
You know what we say to ourselves, what we say to other people. just for example, I’ll give you, it’s a simple example. I’ve said on numerous occasions, I’m a very serious person. And in the moment when I say that I have now labeled myself and I have closed the door on my ability to be not serious to be, fun, loving to, to be joyful, to laugh at things and not even realizing I’m doing it.
And so even, I think, as I’m talking about this and writing about it and thinking about it all day long, there’s this notion or these aprori assumptions that we have where we’re saying, yes, I believe I can change. Yes. I believe I can be different. Yes. I believe I can disrupt myself, but only in these certain parts of my lives, the other part of my life, where I don’t believe it.
And so that’s part of why I think these ideas and concepts are so powerful because if we can start to apply them across the sort of the array of behaviors of our life, then we start to really see some significant and meaningful change happen.
Andy Paul: I was thinking about this along those lines, with the issue of how if everybody has the basic capabilities to succeed, let’s say or the vast majority of people do and they exist in this band. The question becomes really, how do people become motivated to take that step, to begin to disrupt themselves?
And it seems like it’s it, I don’t know. I was more thinking about psych. And even to the point you start Metro about people saying I can’t change in those areas, in order to admit that they could change in those areas, they have to be willing to be vulnerable and admit that there’s something about themselves or about some subject that they don’t know. And I always feel like that’s such a huge barrier, especially in again, in the sales world, is we without getting into a long conversation about how we structure sales, but managers, because the position they’re in, we assume that they’re experts on this broad array of topics, which most of them aren’t. And as a consequence, they’re not able to really help their people in the way they need to be able to help them grow. But in order for that changes aren’t happening as they’ll have to admit that there’s something I don’t know. but they don’t admit that to somebody that’s paying them a lot of money because they assume they know that
Whitney Johnson: Yeah.
Andy Paul: It’s like everybody’s bought up and down the chain has bought into this fiction that keeps these, inefficient structures in place.
Whitney Johnson: Yeah. Agreed.
Andy Paul: Yeah, that’s crazy. So let’s talk about the S curve, cause this is a concept came from the Innovator’s Dilemma and you’re employing this at a personal level, is, was this, as you were starting to work with Clayton Christianson, was there like an epiphany or well you looked at it and said, Oh wow.
Whitney Johnson: Yeah, it was. So we were using so, so just for people who aren’t familiar with, it’s something that was developed by Ian Rogers, or I shouldn’t say developed popularized that Jim Rogers in 1962, and he wrote a book called The Diffusion of Innovations and it talks about how quickly an innovation will be adopted.
And we, during COVID-19, have looked at that to try how quickly a virus will spread. And so we were using it at the disruptive innovator find to figure out, how quickly will an innovation be adopted? And therefore, is it, does it make sense to buy the stock now or later? And as we were doing that, because I was already thinking that disruption applies to products and services and people, I think there was a natural sort of extension of that. And again, I come from the stock market because I was used to thinking about momentum, what makes a stock go up? What makes a stock go down? How do you drive that momentum? There was this notion for me of wait a second. I think this applies to people too.
Like how does this S curve apply to us? And so the big aha that I had was is it could have help us understand how we learn. And how we grow. And so just very at a very high level, if you can, just in your brain right now, trace an S it almost looks like a rollercoaster, but you’ve got the base of that S when you first start something, it’s brand new and your growth is happening, but you can’t see it.
It’s lily pads it’s happening, but it’s not obvious. And so it feels like it’s very slow and this, it feels like a slog. And when you know that it helps you void discouragement, and that’s also happening with an innovation as well, first 10 to 15%, nothing’s very obvious, but then you hit that knee of that curve and you move into the steep, sleek back of that S and this is where you’re in hyper-growth and from a learning perspective, whereas at the launch point of that S curve, it took a lot of time for a little bit to happen now in a little time, a lot happens.
And enough. But not too much, and it’s hard, but not too hard. It’s exhilarating. This is where you feel like, this is where I’m supposed to be. Like I am on the right S curve. And then there’s the top of that S where you start to say, you know what. I’m really good at my job. I’m hitting my quota every month.
But there’s a piece of you who says I’m also a little bit bored. I’m starting to feel like I’m just dialing it in and what’s happening there is that yes, growth is still happening, but it’s happening at a decelerating pace. And so you’re no longer learning your neurons. You’re no longer getting the feel good effects of dopamine.
And so you start to experience that dilemma, personal disruption, which is, if I jump, there’s going to be risks, cause it’s scary to jump and do something new. But if I don’t jump, there’s also risk. I could get toppled. I’ll have other people selling more than I am because I’m not excited anymore about what I’m learning and how I’m growing and developing what I will say Andy is. I believe that every single person is on an S curve. All of us, including you, including your producer, Alec, like we’re all on an S curve. And so then the question becomes is how do we make sure that we get onto the right S Corp? Cause when we’re on the right S curve, we are motivated to climb that S curve.
Andy Paul: Okay, we’ll get back to that. This is a great question. How do we know we’re on the right S curve. I want people to sort of imagine, this S is not like an S I would write with my handwriting. It’s as you said, there’s a steep curve in the middle. There’s our S at the top and on the bottom, just so people can picture it in their minds, but, it seems like there could be sort of false S curves as well.
Cause it was as reading through the book as star struck also by, so idea of the Dunning Kruger effect, right? Is that when people get a little bit experienced, they experienced a little of that dopamine rush. They get this danger of sort of being self-satisfied. So they haven’t hit the mastery part, but they’ve got that rush and they think, Oh, okay, I’ve got it.
And then they stop learning. And so it’s almost like you can be on the, the high growth part of the accelerated part of the growth curve, but slide backwards.
Whitney Johnson: Yeah, such a great observation. And part of what can happen. And so if you think of again, so you’ve got, so let’s just trace out for people with your hand, go from left to right flat. And then, with your hand now go, down to up with your hand, but sweeping to the right, and then that’s the steep part.
And then use your hand, your right hand to go from right. To further, flattening out. So flat steep plat. And what you’re talking about is when you go from being at the flatter, the launch point into that steep part, you’re start growing really fast or in that engagement area. And as you said, You can just start to say I did it. Here I am. I’m so awesome. Yeah, exactly. I’m a great salesperson. Look at, I hit my numbers these months, this month. And so we sometimes do see that in particular in markets that are very hot. And there’s a lot of demand for talent and we’ll use sales right now because that’s who your audience is.
There’s a lot of demand. And so you start to think you’re super awesome. And someone comes to you and dangles a lot of money and a lot of incentives at you. And then you jump to a brand new S curve and you start all over again. And so you barely get into engagement and then you jump. And you do that over and over again. And when you do that, you actually arrest your development because there are things that you learn in the process of being in that sweet spot that are going to allow you, that cycle of you learn and you leap and repeat it’s the completing of the cycle as many times as you possibly can that are going to allow you to fully develop as a professional and as a human being.
And so yes, you can have that sort of false sense and yes, you want to disrupt yourself, but there’s also, you can also disrupt yourself too much.
Andy Paul: And this is a critical point for many people in this audience who are listening, who, average tenure in a lot of sales jobs these days is 12 to 18 months, and especially in some of the higher growth industries. And I see this repeatedly is, you know, people make these quick jumps and they get to this point after the second or third jump, it’s I really don’t know any more than I did before. No more closer to mastery of this professional I’m in. And I relate it back to my own experiences. I sort of did that earlier in my career as well. Back when the job hopping of that nature first started years and years ago. And I was in one situation where I had the opportunity to leave after a couple of years, I said, no, I don’t know why I told myself this. I said I need to stay.
And for me, that transformed my career. By staying, instead of jumping, I got promoted in two or three different new jobs. That incredible experience I had never have had. I, you know, took over international sales that had no international experience. All these opportunities came because I stayed to keep on learning.
Whitney Johnson: Yeah, I love that. I love that. There is that cycle that you it’s important to play that out. And I think actually that’s where the Peter Principle can come in is that if you jump too many times, you’re getting all these basically false starts. And so you’re not learning anything.
And then all of a sudden, and I think this sometimes happens is this is why people lose their jobs is because they’ve kept climbing. They haven’t learned anything. And so they have to get pushed back and put in a place where they can learn something new. And again, complete that cycle of development that we’re talking about.
Andy Paul: You just triggered a thought, isn’t it about time for the Peter Principle to come back?
Whitney Johnson: I don’t know.
Andy Paul: No one ever refers to it.
Whitney Johnson: We just did.
Andy Paul: I know, but if I brought it up, I know I’d be dating myself. You’re younger than I am. So that’s fine, but it’s, but it is a book, that to your point, still has relevance, because the example you gave this and you see it in sales, people jumped too quickly. And not in a few cases is they go these rapid jumps and then they get pulled into a management position and it just compounds the issue because they don’t have the mastery of the experience to be able to help the people that work for them. And as I said that just compounds the problem for everybody in that chain.
Whitney Johnson: And, as you’re saying that, one of the thoughts that I’m having is for, if someone’s listening right now and they’re saying to themselves, I have this opportunity and I want to take it. What I would argue is use this as a, sort of a signal to you to go have a conversation with your manager.
Cause if you’re feeling like you really want to jump, it’s not just about the money. It’s never just about the money. There’s some element of you that’s saying I want to learn more. I want to stretch more. I want to be seen. And this is one of the challenges for a manager when you’ve got people in the sweet spot of that S is if they’re really good and everything’s working, you tend to ignore them.
You’re focused on the people who are the launch point of that S, who don’t know what they’re doing, and you’re trying to get them up to speed. Speed. And you focus the people who are at the high end, because you’re afraid that they’re going to leave. So you start to ignore people who are in the sweet spot.
And so what I would say is if you’re like, I’m feeling like I want to go to your manager, go to your stakeholders and say, I love it here, but I need more training. I need more opportunities. I need to be seen. I need to be acknowledged, whatever it is. So you can just play out that cycle, even if it’s another six to 12 months, usually it’s symptomatic of something else. because in my experience, it’s just, it’s not usually about the money.
Andy Paul: I agree. I agree. One of the things that you just brought up, which is something that you talked about, go to your manager, say, I want more training and so on, but it seems like that in many respects, when I, and again, I haven’t done this rigorous academic study, but I looked at the people I’ve worked with over my long career and people that have succeeded versus those that haven’t. Given, what I think is relative similar capabilities. It wasn’t relying on the company to invest in them. They invest in themselves. They took the risk as much as you invested in yourself. And disrupted what you were doing is this one of the big hurdles for a lot of people and talking specifically about sales, but I’m sure it exists in a lot of professions, but sales is perhaps more acute because it’s such a performance based profession.
Is that yeah, the learning comes from, I think it’s you know, more experiential things you’re doing on your own. More than anything you could learn in a company training program and so on. It’s what are the things you’re doing yourself? And what are the things you’re reading to increase your accuracy and, other examples, but it’s getting people take that first step is really hard. And so you talk about in the book about, Yeah. If a task is both meaningful and relevant. And it seems like just maybe in general, we do a bad job of explaining that for people as to why they should be motivated to take and make these investments in themselves.
Whitney Johnson: Yeah, I think one of the reasons I got so excited about the S curve, in terms of thinking of it as a, an artifact for us to think about learning is that it really does both of those jobs. And I do think that we need both, which is number one for each of us to take responsibility for our own development and the learning and be able to say, okay, Oh, now I get what this looks like. It’s going to be slow. And then it’s going to be fast and then it’s going to be slow. And when it starts to be slow, I need to figure out what I’m going to do next. It also though, gives you a way to talk about it, a language that you can become fluent in that you can have a conversation with your stakeholders as well.
So that, as you’re saying, yeah, I think it’s time for me to jump to a new S curve or do something new along this S curve. You can have that conversation with your stakeholders and you’re speaking the same language and basically say to them, I really love working for you and I love working here and I want to be here.
I also know that I’m starting to get to the top of my S curve and my utility to this organization will start to decrease. So here’s what I think we can do about it. And are you open to that? And the thing I think is so fascinating, Andy, and you tell me if this is true, I’m always fascinated by how people who are good at sales and I really believe it is such an important skill, are amazing at selling externally, but struggle to sell internally. And maybe it goes back to the cobbler’s children have no shoes, but taking those skills that you use every single day, and being able to figure out how to sell your ideas, sell your jump to a new S curve internally you’re chuckling so it sounds like you agree.
Andy Paul: No, I, I didn’t, I never had that problem. That was, I was always good selling internally sometimes too good. But worked for one company running sales for the startup and the CEO comes in and we are a mature company, but says, you realized, I’m walking around this company, talking to everybody.
Everybody says they’re doing a project for you. He says, you realize you don’t step the tone for that, you’re not setting the strategy for the company, don’t you? I was like, that’s one thing that I was really good at. Is getting everybody, you know, sold on supporting the stuff I was working on. But I agree. I think a lot of,
Whitney Johnson: I love it. I’m so impressed. Now, what are you running this podcast?
You’re sort of really talking aboutAndy Paul: self-advocacy right, to some degree. And I think that people, again, it gets that point I talked about earlier, you have to be vulnerable to advocate for yourself. And it’s a funniest, one of the things that’s increasingly coming to the vernacular and sales is well if you want to build a connection with another human being and you’ll start building trust as well, you have to be vulnerable, right? You have to reveal something of yourself in order to start that conversation with the person on the other side, for them to reveal something vulnerable about themselves.
And I think that’s still hard for many people because when you’re in sales, you’re supposed to be the expert, and you don’t want people reluctant to get that at that personal level. And it’s risky, right? This vulnerability is risky and you talk about the risk a lot in the book about taking the step to disrupt yourself is a risk.
Whitney Johnson: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. so there’s something that if we can, I, I just want to touch on cause I’m having a curiosity. So sometimes I think when we think about vulnerability, it’s like revealing to you, for example, Hey, I want to do, like when I went to this manager and said, Hey, I’d like to go into management at some point.
And that felt very vulnerable to me, but it wasn’t actually useful. And in that particular situation, so I think what I’m hearing you say, and I think a productive kind of vulnerability is more of, Hey, I think you, my client are trying to get X done or, Hey, I think you, my boss are trying get X done or Y done, and I think I can help you solve it.
And here’s what it would look like. I don’t know everything, but here’s some of what I’m thinking, are you willing to run this experiment? So there’s a vulnerability in terms of, not around your identity or your sense of self, but just a willingness to say, I don’t have it all figured out, but I think I can figure out and I think we can do it together and I want to figure it out in your behalf. So that’s how I’m thinking about in this context. is that where your head’s going?
Andy Paul: Yeah. It’s a willingness to be wrong.
Whitney Johnson: Okay. Got it. Yup.
Andy Paul: Yeah. If I lay out this experiment, so I don’t feel know Charlie Green, who writes about trust and was one of the coauthors on the original Trusted Advisor, he calls it bring a risky gift to a conversation.
Whitney Johnson: I love that.
Andy Paul: I may just be speculating here, but let me lay this out. And you could just be completely wrong. But that’s okay. You’re even engaged in the conversation. But you have to take a risk to put yourself in that position
Whitney Johnson: So good. Yup. Yup, absolutely.
Andy Paul: One of the things I wanted to ask you though, is why do you think it’s perceived as a risk to invest in disrupting yourself?
Whitney Johnson: Why do I think it’s perceived as a risk? Okay. Yeah. I’ve two answers for you on that. Maybe one answer, but it’s a couple of thoughts.
Andy Paul: I know it gets to this idea of the functional emotional rewards, which I wanted to get into as well, but go ahead.
Whitney Johnson: Okay. Yeah. Perfect. Okay. so I want everybody again to picture some graph paper. And, your life is on this grid of graphs. And basically if you think about from an, your life right now, today, let’s call it you’re at a 12 on the graph paper of life. And you’re going over one up one, over one up one.
So it’s basically the trajectory that you’re currently on, whatever that is. When you choose to disrupt yourself, you were making the decision that yes, I’m on a 12 on that Y axis of success and I’m willing to sacrifice some of my stature, my prestige, my compensation, my standing, whatever it is to go down to a 10. To have people say to me, are you out of your mind?
Cause that’s what it will look like. because I believe, and this goes to, I believe that when I do this, when I go down to that time, my trajectory will stop being over one up one, but it will be over one up two, or over one up three. And the reason that you do that is you may say, I’m out of 12 and I’m getting these certain sort of functional rewards. I’ve got this particular salary and I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job, but usually when you make that decision to disrupt yourself, there’s a functional job that you’re thinking, maybe in the future I can make more money, but almost always there’s an emotional job that has been left undone that you feel like when you disrupt yourself.
When you do that over one, up three, over one outside, it will do both the functional and almost always certainly the emotional jobs better. And so in my case, when I left Wall Street, yeah, it was stupid from a financial perspective, it was a very dumb decision. And, boss saying to me, you’re going to regret this for the rest of your life. It was because that job was no longer doing the emotional job that I needed to do too. So I had to disrupt myself so I could find a profession, a vocation that would allow me to do both the functional and emotional jobs. So you step back to slingshot forward.
Andy Paul: Yeah. And I wanted to bring this back in and try to put it in that once your feedback on let’s see if I’m off base or not. Here’s my risky gift I’m bringing is-
Whitney Johnson: Oh, I love that.
So you talk about-
I accept your risky gift.
Andy Paul: I haven’t said it yet. You may not. So when. So when you talk about the jobs to be done theory, which I was fascinated by when I first read about it, and then you bring it up again and made me think about it in the sales context.
Cause I guess Clayton Christianson popularized it you said, and you gave me an example of yourself, as there’s always a functional, emotional component to it. As an investor, you hired an investment to do the job of making money, the functional job, making money. Meaning when you invested money in something, you were hiring it to do that job.
But you’re also hiring it to do an emotional job for you. So I think about in sales is that the buyer, the customer is hiring the seller to the functional job of helping them make a good decision. And that the emotional component of the emotional job they’re hiring them to do is to make a decision that they perceive to be less risky, but also that will achieve certain outcomes for them as a business.
Whitney Johnson: I would actually argue that’s the functional job. job. So the functional job is we have certain things that we want to get done in our business. That’s the functional job. The emotional job is what you said first, which is you’re going to make me feel safer in making this decision because I don’t have the expertise to do it so you’re going to hold my hand, help walk me through it as we’re trying to implement it. When I feel like I don’t know what I’m going to do, how to do it, I’ll be able to call you and rely on you. I trust you to help me in this process of change that I’m making by buying your product to help me make my business better, that you will be there for me emotionally to figure this out when I don’t know how to figure it out.
So that’s how I would think about it. It’s the functional versus emotional piece. What do you think when you hear that?
Andy Paul: You know, from a buyer’s perspective, they look at us, they’ve got a job to be done, to make a decision And going into it they really don’t know. They know they’ve got a problem, but maybe they don’t know the scope of the problem. They certainly haven’t defined the options that exist to be able to solve it.
And they need sellers to help them go through that process to arrive to make a good decision. So I looked at that as the functional part of it.
Whitney Johnson: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Got it. So you’re backing way up, to even figuring out what the solution is. Okay. Yup. Agreed. Agreed.
Andy Paul: Interesting point because I think that most sellers don’t. Pay attention to that part of the job, the buyer’s trying to accomplish they just focus on, “Oh, I’m engaging with the buyer who obviously know they know what they really need to do. So I’m just competing on the basis of whether I’m going to be selected as the vendor or not,” which yeah, that’s a whole different job, Thats the end of the process, whereas I think it really is functional to help them cause they need you. They need you. That’s what they’re talking to you as a salesperson. If they could do without you they’d do it without you.
Whitney Johnson: Yeah, we always would.
Andy Paul: Yeah. So then, but the emotional component is, I think to your point is, yeah, can you then, as a company, help them achieve the outcomes that were promised in the sales process?
Whitney Johnson: And going back to your part about making the decision in the first place is, can I trust you to help me think through this? And maybe even as I think through this, if we realize that you actually don’t have the solution that I need, can I trust you to tell me that I should find the solution somewhere else? I think that’s the whole emotional piece as well.
Andy Paul: yeah. That’s even better. Yeah, that’s good. Okay. All right. So I’m not completely crazy there. W ll it’s a topic I want to explore some more with sellers, because I think it’s a great framework for people to think about what it is they’re actually trying to do when they engage with a customer.
And what’s the customer looking to get out of it. Because I think when a buyer agrees to spend or invest some of their time with a seller, they’re basically hiring them to do a job. And most sellers don’t tend to think of it that way, but yeah, you’re being hired to do a job,
Whitney Johnson: They’re hiring the product to do a job. That’s what’s interesting to me, You’re hiring the product to do a job.
Andy Paul: Yeah. Well it’s almost two different sets of hiring, right? One is you because you, as a seller are the sort of exemplification of the product and the company initially, until they actually started implementing it.
Whitney Johnson: Yeah, they’re hiring you the sales person and they’re hiring their product. Absolutely. To do both a functional and an emotional job. And as you’re starting to tease that out, if you can almost have this grid and look at, okay, so what functional job are they hiring the product to do? What emotional job?
What functional jobs are they hiring me to do? What emotional job? And when you can start to tease those out, it makes it a lot easier to make a sale because you’re able to really understand what it is they’re trying to buy. And if you can even sell it to them more, if they need to go somewhere else,
Andy Paul: Okay. I don’t know. We may have to collaborate on something on that. I this is something that was, as I read the book I was like, okay, if we can explain this, this will make a lot of sense for sellers to help them make sense of really what they’re supposed to be focused on. Which is a problem. Alright. We’re running out of time, but I got so much I want to talk about, I think one of
Whitney Johnson: Good. That’s a good problem.
Andy Paul: Yeah. I think one of the topics of my tackle before we go to the end, I thought it was interesting in the book as well as is this whole idea of embracing constraints. And, you’re thinking about your disruption and, but the fact is that understanding their are constraints as you grow, and in the field that you’re in, is you said it’s actually liberating in many respects. And I just want to dig into that a bit. Cause I sort of immediately my mind gravitated to, and it’s going to sound completely off track, but gravitated to poetry.
Whitney Johnson: Oh, it doesn’t sound off track at all. Go ahead. Say the example. Cause it’s powerful. Yeah, please.
Andy Paul: There are various forms of poetry, right? it could be the, iambic pentameter or the meter that you use. It could be the structure, the type of poem you’re writing. They have constraints. I had done so many syllables per line or them rhyming patterns, or, it’s a sonnet, 13 lines, all that stuff is this amazing creativity flows out of the constraints.
Whitney Johnson: It’s interesting that you would mention that. So a year or two ago, we had Orson Scott Card on our podcast who wrote the book, Enders Game, which is one of my favorite books of all time. And he actually use that exact example of what you just said is that he said when he was in high school his teacher, his English teacher pulled him aside and said, you can see this was the seventies, sixties, and seventies.
He said, you can keep riding this gushy, self whatever poetry that you want. But if you want to truly become a great writer, you need to learn how to write sonnets. So you need to start writing sonnets. And he said, basically he credits his ability to write with that discipline of learning, to write sonnets.
So the bigger principle of this, that you’re touching on, is this notion if you think about science, is that an order for anything to move forward? There has to be friction. There has to be something to bump up against. And, one of the things that we tend to do is to say, if only I had more time or if I had a bigger budget or I had more expertise or I had more buy in from my stakeholders, then I can be really effective of whatever it is I’m trying to do, in this particular instance sales.
But we know from the research, we know from the science that in fact it’s constraints that allow us to move up our S curve of learning. I’ll give you just one quick example, as you’re thinking about this is there was a post-mortem of 200 failed startups and they divided them into the funded startups and the unfunded startups. And the number one reason that the funded startups, the ones I’ve been able to raise outside capital had plenty of money on hand. The number one reason that they went out of business was that they ran out of cash and it was the only the number 10 reason for the unfunded startups. And so one of the things that, I’m really advocating for, is this notion that as you’re trying to climb and ask her your constraints, whatever they are, and you’re going to have them, cause you always do is how do you turn those constraints, not just into a victim of like why me, and not even neutralize them, but how can those constraints be transformative for you? And one of the things I think is so exciting and why, what’s happening in the world right now, is that. Clayton Christianson said that the great recession, and I think it’s also true for any sort of major upheaval would have an unmitigated positive impact on innovation because when tension is the greatest, we’re most willing to rethink how we’re doing business. And so for everybody who is listening to you, all of your audience, I would actually ask the question: if you think about some of your greatest successes in sales, undoubtedly they were brought to you because there were some constraint which may include a failure. Cause a failure is a constraint. There was some constraint in place that caused you to become better than you ever thought possible because you’re trying to figure out how to create something out of that constraint.
Andy Paul: And I think it gets back to one of the topics I was bringing up earlier was, how do you motivate people to invest in themselves? Gallup does surveys of salespeople and employees and so on and the number one reason, and I think it’s roughly 60% of sellers, said that they left a job is because their manager, they weren’t getting what they needed from their manager. And to me, that’s a constraint, right? It’s you’re looking at them as a limit on your ability to improve. What are you doing? So operate within that constraint. What are the steps you’re taking yourself? How are you investing in yourself? Are you turning off the TV and stuff, watching the repeat of The Bachelor or whatever, read a book or do something. And I think this is what really, for me, a sort of boil down to that is yeah, this not getting maybe the sports you want isn’t disabling, it’s actually enabling for you. If you look at it the right way that this now says, okay, given these constraints, how do I get better?
Whitney Johnson: And what information is it giving you? and one of the questions that we’ll ask in our coaching is, in this situation where you’ve got a boss, that seems to be a blocker. You know what percentages of this is about your boss? What percentage of this is about you and what percentage of this is about the system?
And it would take pretty much a very narcissistic person to say, none of it is about you, right? And so when you do that, you start to open the door of saying, okay, so I’ve got this constraint and I understand that there’s this block, but what oftentimes basically is just saying, there’s something for you to learn. What is it that you can learn on? You’re in a room game? How are you going to get out of that room game? So I think that’s really Interesting and powerful just to say, for bosses, the constraint, then, like you said, what are you going to create out of that? And what is there for you to learn? Because inevitably there is something for you to learn about yourself and how to become more effective.
Andy Paul: Yeah. I think selling in general is a game of constraints, right? you go to talk to a prospect.
Whitney Johnson: I love that. Yes. Yes.
Andy Paul: Can I talk to your boss? no, All right. how are we going to make that happen, right? Or this is what we do, well that costs too much . It’s a game of constraints you have to deal with at all times. And I think the people who are generally more successful are those who embrace that ambiguity that comes with the constraints and say, “Oh, what can I do with the situation?”
Whitney Johnson: You’re probably one of those people that loves the word. No, right? No is just the starting point for you isn’t it?
Andy Paul: I was telling this story yesterday where somebody is, I had a boss who came up to me once as VP of sales for this company. And boss comes up to me. He says, question for you, don’t you ever just say yes to anything? And I said, no. But because every time there was just suggestion, do it this way, do it that way, you know, it’s let me think about that. is that because suddenly you’re putting constraints on me cause you want me to go do this, but what’s the best way that I could get it done.
Whitney Johnson: Oh, that’s interesting. So you, wait, so wait a second. So you’re telling me, I was saying that when people say no to you, you’re like, okay, that’s a constraint. How I’m going to get around that. But you’re also telling me that you’re really comfortable saying no, let me think about that because maybe there’s a different way to do it. That’s interesting. So you like it in both instances, you’re willing to say no, but you also liked the no fascinating.
Andy Paul: Yeah.
Whitney Johnson: There’s something to that. I hope that you really double click on that. Cause that to me is a secret of a person who’s a great salesperson.
Andy Paul: That’s the point I was trying to make is that I was fortunate enough early in my career to have bosses that gave me leeway. Yeah, I was trained at a methodology. I was trained in a process and I had my own sort of unique personality as a real introvert coming out of school and starting sales still, I’m an introvert but it’s yeah, the way they want me to do this, just either have to quit, or I got find a way to do it that aligns with how I feel comfortable working. Which I did, and they didn’t care cause ultimately I was delivering.
Whitney Johnson: You were selling, you were doing your job.
Andy Paul: But right now we’ve entered this phase because of, I think because there’s so many managers that have been rapidly promoted without achieving the mastery at sales that they need, is they’re not comfortable letting salespeople would come this best version of themselves because it’s perceived to be too risky. I’ll put trust in the metrics I can look at, but I don’t want you to vary from what we’re doing. And so selling’s become more compliance based in many respects. And this is one things I keep advocating is now let’s give people the room to discover themselves in that regard.
Whitney Johnson: Oh, that’s interesting. So if people were getting promoted too quickly on, because they’re not able to understand what to do and not that they can break the rules is becoming more prescriptive, which is making, which is hindering the whole process. Interesting.
Andy Paul: it’s perceived as less risky. Because If we’ve got a process that’s prescriptive and I follow the process. If my sellers aren’t making it well, it’s not really a reflection on me. I follow the process.
Whitney Johnson: Interesting. I need to cough just a second.
Andy Paul: Go ahead.
Whitney Johnson: Excuse me. Okay.
Andy Paul: Unfortunately we got to jump to another interview here before too long, but it’s been so much fun talking with you. We’d love to have you back sometime and do it again.
Whitney Johnson: I would love that this has been a blast. Thank you so much for having me.
Andy Paul: If people want to contact you or connect with you, how can they do that?
Whitney Johnson: I think the easiest way is if you’re interested in these ideas would be to listen to one of our podcast episodes. If you just go to Whitnejohnson.com or you can go find it anywhere, but it’s Disrupt Yourself. And I would direct people to episode 100 of the podcast, which is all about taking the right kinds of risks and episode 120, which is about playing to your distinctive strengths. If you want to just drill down on these ideas a little bit more.
Andy Paul: Perfect. Oh, good. Whitney, thank you so much.
Whitney Johnson: Thank you for having me, Andy.