Whitney Johnson is the CEO of Disruption Advisors, a tech-enabled talent development company
and an Inc. 5000 2020 fastest- growing private company in America. One of the ten leading business thinkers
in the world as named by Thinkers50 in 2021, Whitney is an expert at smart growth leadership and the
author of Smart Growth: How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company, and other titles.
Whitney Johnson Interview 12.20.21
BE: What does abundance mean to you?
WJ: Abundance means there’s a sense of possibility that there’s enough, and that there’s an ever-expanding enough.
ME: How do you share that with others?
WJ: It’s a good question because most of us toggle in and out of scarcity and abundance. I can share it with other people when I’m feeling that way, and when I’m not feeling that way I think most people tend to want to grab things and hold onto them closely, as if there’s not enough.
So I’d say to do the work, to be in a place of abundance as much as possible, and to make that ever more frequent, and sharing with other people, is the one thought that comes to mind.
Yesterday, I got on a Zoom call with a woman, and she was feeling overwhelmed, like many of us are during the holidays, and I was holding that space for her, just being there. The beautiful thing about it is, that morning I was feeling I didn’t have enough time to get everything done. But when I took that time for her, she felt like she had enough, and when I got off the phone I felt like I had enough time.
In a way, she filled my cup, because she gave me the opportunity to feel effective. When we feel we don’t have enough, we feel like we can’t be effective. So in that time, by holding that space for her, and allowing that conversation, I felt better.
ME: What unique way do you celebrate your own success and abundance?
WJ: One way I celebrate that success is I’ll write it in my journal, and I’ll share it with my family. So, validating it for myself means sharing it with someone else. In that moment, when I feel I’m being successful, something works, or someone reads a copy of the book and says this is really helpful, if I’m in an abundant place then I want to help even more.
ME: You show up, and I’ve learned so much from you.
WJ: And you show up for me! You participate, and you comment. It’s like a virtuous cycle, so I’m grateful that you think it’s helpful, and we sometimes feel like when we’re talking back, even though it feels asymmetrical, the experience I’m having is not.
BE: So, let me ask you. Have you had the inner critic during your time (writing) Smart Growth?
WJ: Great question. I tend to not think I have imposter syndrome. One of the things that’s interesting is that it shows up unawares. For example, you probably realize that when you’re writing a book it’s not really a solitary effort, you’re writing it together.
It’s much more communal than anyone expects. So one thing I had to struggle with is, because I’m not writing every single word, I had other writers, I had editors. So, yes it’s my book, yes it’s my writing, but I also had a lot of other people writing, so I think when you’re doing something in a communal way, and you put your name on it, you think, well, should my name really be there?
That’s an interesting thing I had to sort through, and that happens to anybody running any sort of business.
The other place it kind of crept in where I didn’t expect it, the Thinkers 50 rankings came out a couple of months ago, and I ended up in the top 10. And when I got in the top 10, first of all, when my name wasn’t read, I thought, well I’m not going to get in at all. Then when I got in the top 10, I thought, well, I shouldn’t be there, I should be there in 2 years, not now. So I said, that’s imposter syndrome, right?
I was talking to my friend Liz Wiseman, who wrote Multipliers. She said, Whitney, in life there are things you’re going to do that you’re going to be surprised that you’re there, and sometimes other people are going to be surprised that you’re there. The only thing that actually matters is what you do next. So, I’m here whether anybody else thinks I should be. There are times I probably should have been on the list, and times I probably shouldn’t be and I am, and the question is once you’re in that place, what do you do? That’s how we deal with that, never taking your press clippings too seriously, either on the good side, or the bad side.
BE: In our research for Journey Well, we came across the fact that Albert Einstein considered himself ‘an involuntary swindler,’ he had imposter syndrome. So, we’re all in pretty good company.
WJ: That’s interesting, because, he was brilliant, it’s not that he didn’t think he was smart, but he had colleagues around him that were also smart, that weren’t getting the accolades he was.
ME: Excellent point. So, speaking of Journeying Well, how do you journey well personally?
WJ: I would say that when I am journeying well — some days I journey well better than others — it’s because I’m present. I’m in the moment. I’m living my life according to what I say I value, so according to my faith, spending time with my family, treating people with respect and dignity, making choices. All those things come together in that place where I’m feeling present, and I’m good with God. If those things are in place, then I know I’m journeying well.
BE: This sounds like awareness.
WJ: Yes. Like, right now, we’re having this conversation, right now. Are we focused on this conversation? And the answer is yes.
ME: One last question. What did you find most valuable talking to us?
WJ: I like that discussion of abundance, when I made the connection between holding space for someone else, and then she allowed me to feel effective, that created abundance for me in an unexpected way. That was really useful. Something else. The two of you seem very calm, and that’s what you’re writing about, you’re in a place to write about it because you’re living it. That’s the experience I’m having.
ME/BE: Whitney, thank you very much for your time today.
WJ: You’re welcome, thank you.
Whitney Johnson is the CEO of Disruption Advisors (disruptionadvisors.co), a tech-enabled talent development company, and an Inc. 5000 2020 honoree, one of the fastest-growing private companies in America. Named by Thinkers50 as one of the ten leading business thinkers in the world (2021), she advises executives across the globe on smart growth leadership: growing your people to grow your company.
A Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon bestselling author, Johnson is a world class keynote speaker and a frequent lecturer for Harvard Business Publishing’s Corporate Learning. She has 1.8 million followers on LinkedIn where she was selected as a Top Voice in 2020. Her course on Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship has been viewed more than one million times, and she hosts a weekly LinkedIn Live with a million+ cumulative views. In 2017, she was selected from more than 17,000 candidates for the initial cohort of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches, and was named as the #1 Talent Coach.
Johnson is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, as well as the author of the bestselling Build an A Team, a Financial Times and Porchlight Book of the Month, and the critically acclaimed Disrupt Yourself. In these books, she codifies the S Curve of Learning and the Seven Accelerants of Personal Disruption, both of which operationalize disruption theory by applying it to the individual. Integral to her work is the weekly Disrupt Yourself Podcast which has millions of downloads. Guests have included
Brené Brown, Adam Grant, Susan Cain, and Stephen M.R. Covey.
Johnson was the co-founder of the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen, through which they invested in and led the $8 million seed round for South Korea’s Coupang, currently valued at more than $25 billion. She was involved in fund formation, capital raising and the development of the fund’s strategy.
A former award-winning Wall Street stock analyst, Johnson applies her understanding of momentum and growth in stocks to people. She was an Institutional Investor–ranked equity research analyst for eight consecutive years, rated by Starmine as a superior stock-picker. As an equity analyst, stocks under coverage included America Movil (NYSE: AMX), Televisa (NYSE: TV) and Telmex (NYSE: TMX), which accounted for roughly 40% of Mexico's market capitalization.
She is married, has two children, and lives in Lexington, Virginia, her family grows strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries and enjoys making jam.
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