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Steve Jobs In The Consulting Room: Disrupt Yourself

Put another way: use the principles of improvisation
– and the philosophy of Steve Jobs - to design one’s life:
focus more on creating and contributing than on self-interest,
         and the personal gains will follow.                        

  by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP    
     One of Steve Jobs’ favorite books was Clay Christiansen’s The Innovators’ Dilemma, about the problems faced by successful companies whose products play an important and established role in the market – and therefore in society. Stick with what Christiansen calls “sustaining technologies” - the established, familiar, and proven - and risk being rendered obsolete when a “disruptive technology” – game-changing, transformative, revolutionizing – comes along. Steve Jobs took the disruptive road one further than anyone else. He disrupted his own company, his own inventions. If an innovation was going to make customers happier he would go for it, even if it meant another Apple product was either cannibalized or marginalized. Conventional thinking – “focus on profits to keep the company going” – was upended at Apple which produced disruptive technologies and operated internally in disruptive ways. This seems counter-intuitive in a business sense, because in the short term disruptive technologies are more expensive with less demand in the market. The networked world measures the value of a device through the range and creativity of its connectivity so a new device, no matter how amazing and original, is in demand only when there are many others out there for it to synch and share information with. Jobs focused on creating devices with the potential to make customers’ lives better and more beautiful. We all know how the whole profit thing turned out for him.   
    Sustain or disrupt, that is the dilemma. In technology and in life. For a stable existence, we need predictability and familiarity. We need to feel safe and at least somewhat in control. Structures provide a degree of safety and a measure of control, and our pattern-seeking brains allow us to be more creative and free when routine thinking functions sink into the adaptive unconscious and become automatic and habitual.  The problems of 21st century life, however, demand the transformative and revolutionary approaches of disruptive thinking. We can become like established companies with a position in the culture that is “set” and reliable and about to be superseded by something we neither want nor understand. Change is destabilizing under the best of circumstances, but there is a way to approach it that can reduce the stress we feel when existing structures fall away or prove to be outmatched by the problems we face.
     The solution to the innovator’s dilemma is what Christiansen called "Discovery-driven planning: learn by doing and make real-time adjustments in strategy and planning." Put another way: use the principles of improvisation – and the philosophy of Steve Jobs - to design one’s life: focus more on creating and contributing than on self-interest, and the personal gains will follow. Improvisation produces originality when we stop worrying about what's in it for us and focus on making our partners look good. It is threatening in the short-term to let go of self-conscious, "what's-in-it-for-me" thinking, but can result in the creation of something that can make others' lives better and more beautiful. And here's what is in it for us: discovery-driven thinking is the way out of turning into one of those risk-averse entities that fear disruption and are therefore undone by it.
     Improvisation is using what we are given and what we know to discover what is unknown and invent what is new and untried. Which requires the embrace of ideas that may not have proven value and are still gaining ground. The “discovery-driven” person is free because the possibility of loss of failure is accepted and embraced. We know that disruptions will come – some we will produce, some will simply emerge and shatter our illusion of safety. Improvisation only works through agreements, which form the structures that frame a story as it unfolds, so it engages the psychological “muscle” we need to ride the waves of disruption – which in improvisation is a constant. Improvisation is a way to be grounded and connected to the world while playing with uncertainty.
     Steve Jobs did not set out or want to be anybody’s guru. He was not a perfect person. But he changed the world and showed us something important about how to think for a future that comes faster and with more velocity than ever before. He demonstrated discovery-driven planning in action, the results of which are right in front of every Iphone, Ipad and Ipod user around the world, every day.
     The tensions of change are already here. Rethink the old. Disrupt yourself.

Jude Treder-Wolff is a writer/performer and trainer. Her new show Crazytown: my first psychopath will be featured at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and Chicago Fringe Festival. Complete information about these performances is available at


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