Whitney Johnson is the leading thinker on driving corporate innovation through personal disruption. She formerly co-founded Rose Park Advisors, a boutique investment firm, with Clayton Christensen, and was an Institutional Investor-ranked analyst for eight consecutive years, including at Merrill Lynch. She is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, was named a Future Thinker Finalist by Management Thinkers50 in 2013, co-founded Forty Women Over 40 to Watch, and was one of Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter in 2014.
My Definition Of Success | Through my thirties, success was about going after the brass ring. In high school, it was making cheerleader; in college, playing piano in the jazz band; in my twenties, becoming an investment banker; in my thirties, achieving plaudits as stock analyst. I will probably never rid myself completely of the need for the brass ring, but I’ve now lived enough of life (and been beaten up enough) to say that success — distilled – is moving from stuck to unstuck.
My Highlights | I am proud of my career. When I first arrived on Wall Street, I was a music major who had never set foot in a business course, with no connections, and very little confidence. I then moved up from secretary to banker to equity analyst and eventually co-founded an investment firm with Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School.
I am very proud of my family life. My parents didn’t have a happy marriage. They married because my mother was pregnant with me. Divorced when I was 17. I have now been married for 28 years. We have two children, a son who is on a mission in Brazil, and a daughter who is a freshman in high school. We are not perfect as a family, just ask my children, but we are happy.
The Difference Between Good And Great | Because our strengths involve something we do reflexively well, we tend to overlook them, and to devalue them. The difference between people that are good at what they do and great is they value their strengths, play to them, AND do the work of improving upon them.
A Key Talent | I am a gifted coach. I didn’t realize this until 2-3 years ago when I finally stopped shrugging the compliment off. It was as natural as breathing. How could that possibly be strength? So, step #1 to identifying one of your superpowers is to listen to what compliments you receive that you typically dismiss.Even after you begin to realize you are good at something, you will be inclined to give it away because it makes you feel strong and powerful when you do it. But it’s still in stealth mode – because we undervalue what we are. So step #2 is to name this strength. Put this superpower on your resume. Finally, step #3 is to put a value on the strength. As you become aware of, name and value your strengths, you begin to own them. That’s when you start to step into your power.
The Characteristics Of Success | Personal Disruption: The act of using a practice employed by companies – wherein a product deemed inferior by the market leader (Amazon v. Borders, Uber v. Yellow Cab) eventually upends the industry – and applying it to yourself and your career.
From walking through the secretarial side door onto Wall Street, to walking off of Wall Street to become an entrepreneur, I have continually been willing to disrupt myself. This is a skill-set that I believe gives me a competitive edge in a world of accelerating disruption.
Principles I Live By | When I was 13 years old, I heard the song As from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key Of Life. One line, in particular, encapsulates my deeply held beliefs. “You can bet your life, and that, and twice its double, that God knew exactly where He wanted you to be placed.” This lyric reminds me that who we are and what we do matters.
Critical Skills I Develop | Being grateful. Because I am so achievement-oriented, it can be really easy to be bitter when things don’t go as planned. There have been lots of times when things haven’t gone my way, like being fired to backing a business that imploded. I had to decide if I would be bitter or grateful. Bitterness would have destroyed me. So I chose grateful.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | If the people within my sphere, especially my children, believe it is their privilege and birthright to dream and disrupt, I will die a happy woman.