On Disrupting Yourself

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.


During 2001 dot com bubble, one of my friends, a competent software developer, was laid off because of lack of business in the technology he worked in. He was smart enough to understand that the company needed people in a new project that was to be developed on a totally different technology. He learned the new technology, re-skilled himself fast enough to face a client interview for the new project and was retained even before his notice period got over.

In my formative years, he stood as an example of someone who totally disrupted himself when he was forced by external circumstances. Obviously, today’s complex and fast changing world demands individuals to disrupt themselves based on internal drivers of change, before external circumstances compel them to change.

In a business context, there are many organizations like 3M, Apple, NetFlix and Google whose success can be attributed to their ability to disrupt themselves continuously.

In this episode of What’s Next podcast, one of my favorite authors and thinkers Whitney Johnson says,

“Not just products, services and companies, the fundamental unit of disruption is an individual.”

Individuals disrupt themselves when they take some risk, do things that they have never done before, learn constantly, connect the dots and think about intersections between current reality (what they have done so far) and possibilities (what they could do with all innovations around them).

One of her key advices in the podcast is:

“Play to your strengths, not just what you do well but what others don’t.”

The insights in this podcast are very relevant to individuals and businesses alike.

Here is a high-level sketch note summary of this excellent conversation, which I encourage you to check out.

Tanmay Vora Whitney Johnson Sketchnote

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4 Skills Great Innovators Share by Greg Satell

If creativity is about having unique ideas and new ways to do things, innovation is all about making those ideas happen.

In that sense, the bridge between creativity and innovation is made from the bricks of execution. That is when the rubber meets the road.

One of the key characteristics of someone who innovates is that they run small pilots to test their hypothesis. When they encounter ideas (or interesting intersections of already existing ideas), they tinker with the idea, execute in small chunks and learn along the way to adapt. They understand that to make a few things work, they have to try, fail and learn from many other things. They have to collaborate and network with others. They have to be comfortable with ambiguity and chaos when they experiment.

In this context, I read a brilliant post (with some great examples) from Greg Satell about 4 skills that all great innovators share. I highly recommend you read the full post and here is a quick sketch note summary of key skills. Greg supports these skills in his post with excellent examples to make sense of it all.

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The 9 Rules of Innovation by Greg Satell

Innovation is perhaps the most used word in corporate boardrooms today. Start ups are organized around a brand new idea but they often stumble when it comes to execution. Big companies have all the required resources, but also a lot of red-tape and resistance to change.

Add to this, the challenges of hyper-competitive landscape, organization cultures, shortage of talent and agility to move swiftly and the challenge of innovation compounds.

Moreover, innovation is not as simple as having fresh ideas and executing them well. It actually stems from having a deep and wide understanding of problem and domain at hand and it takes years to get to that understanding. Also, innovation doesn’t always mean a flashy new idea. Innovation can take many forms from operational innovation to business models and creating platforms.

In 2016, I had read an excellent article by Greg Satell that outlined “The 9 Rules of Innovation”. The post provides a rich context to the topic of how to innovate.

Here is a snippet from the post that underlines the fact that innovation requires us to pursue width of understanding and not just depth:

Darwin’s theory of natural selection borrowed ideas from Thomas Malthus, an economist and Charles Lyell, a geologist. Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA was not achieved by simply plowing away at the lab, but by incorporating discoveries in biology, chemistry and x-ray diffraction to inform their model building.

Great innovation almost never occurs within one field of expertise, but is almost invariably the product of synthesis across domains.

Greg cites example of Google to outline the 70/20/10 rule which I so agree with. He says,

The premise of the rule is simple. Focus 70% of your resources in improving existing technology (i.e. search), 20% toward adjacent markets (i.e. Gmail, Google Drive, etc.) and 10% on completely new markets (i.e. self-driving cars).

And finally, a nugget of wisdom that outlines the path to success in a networked world:

In a networked world, the surest path to success is not acquiring and controlling assets, but widening and deepening connections.

I encourage you to read Greg’s post and here is my sketch note synthesis of key ideas from the post. The post also has a wonderful sketchnote drawn my Mauro Toselli, who has been an inspiration in my own sketchnote journey:

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