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If you want to go up, DISRUPT!

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Last week we attended the WOBI World Business Forum in Milan once again as a technical partner. This year WayOut’s president Giorgio Nicastro had the great honour of introducing Whitney Johnson’s speech on the first day of the event. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Whitney and her work, I’ll give you a brief run-down of her latest achievements. In 2017 she was considered one of the top 50 Business Thinkers in the world, she has worked on Wall Street in New York, in 2018 she was named one of Linkedin’s Top Voices and her work on Disruptive Innovation has seen her create an incredibly successful podcast with a vast following – she’s kind of a big deal for us!


In her speech at WBF, Whitney posed a number of questions to the audience asking how we could grow faster and help our people grow faster. Those of you familiar with Whitney’s work will know what I’m talking about when I refer to the “S Curve of Learning”, for those of you who aren’t, here is a very quick breakdown. The idea is that our learning in an organisation or role follows a kind of S and each S curve should last approximately 4-5 years. At the beginning of an S curve an individual is inexperienced and so takes some time to learn the ropes, roughly 6 months.


Once an individual begins to engage, they hit the “tipping point” and start their hypergrowth part of the cycle which sees them enter the “Engagement” part of their curve and this usually lasts around 4 years. Naturally, once a person learns something and does it really well for a period of time, they become an expert and at this point the individual enters the “Mastery” part of their S curve – a dangerous place to be for too long. This part of the curve should last approximately 6 months, after which if the person does not “leap” to a new S curve they may become bored and complacent and thus unproductive. The idea is Learn, Leap, Repeat!


Whitney’s idea of the S curve of learning encourages people to be disruptive in their everyday lives. Disruptive innovation is a new idea that creates a new market and thus disrupts an old one. Not all innovations are disruptive, but the idea has been applied to how talent is moved around and utilised in the workplace. By disrupting one’s everyday work habits and taking on new challenges we can apply disruptive innovation to our organisations.

As a recruiter at WayOut I often meet clients who want to find experts in their field, they want the best of the best, la crème della crème. Inserting experts into your business is dangerous as they may be entering your business already at the top of their S curve and thus are at risk of being less productive than anticipated. High growth organisations need high growth individuals and so rather than searching for experts, it seems more beneficial to hire for potential and not proficiency. Value inexperience!


The most important thing to note is not forget about your “Sweetspotters” those in their hypergrowth phase who are super engaged and mega productive. Ideally, we want 70% of our people to be in this phase of their S curve and 15% on either side (inexperience and mastery). Be sure to praise those in the engagement phase. That sounds super simple, but sometimes it’s easy to focus on what they need to improve and not what they have achieved so far. This part of the curve is exhilarating for those in it, but it is also key to help them focus and keep them motivatWe need to help individuals jump to new curves when we see that they have reached their mastery. So, what if we don’t want to let our “Masters” jump to a new curve that might be in another company? It’s not all bad news, if they don’t have a new curve to jump to in your organisation you can help them “Jump in the same place”. What does that mean I hear you say through the screen? Masters can jump in the same place by taking on mentoring roles or courses to help them learn new things and prevent them from becoming bored in their everyday job.


As a recruiter I often encourage my clients to choose the candidate who might be more inexperienced but may be better aligned from an organisational culture point of view. It’s not always easy to find the right person who will fit in with your team or who will bring positive energy to your organisation but it sure is easier to teach someone what they need to do rather than who they should be. My biggest take away from Whitney’s speech encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing with my clients from this point of view and not be tricked into trying to find the best CV on the market. At the end of the day if we want to go up, we need to disrupt!




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