Is It Time to Disrupt Yourself?

Sometimes, life gets comfortable. You're making a decent living. Your family has health and happiness. The "status quo" approach is treating you just fine. You can sit back and enjoy the ride. Or you can take Michael Tiemann's advice: Blow up your business and start over.

Red Hat VP Michael Tiemann

Red Hat VP Michael Tiemann

Tiemann is VP of open source affairs at Red Hat Inc. He spoke at several open source conferences that I helped to build and manage about a decade ago. By 2009 or so, I visited Red Hat's headquarters and caught up with Tiemann. Life seemed good for him and Red Hat. I asked Tiemann: "What's the biggest challenge or goal you face every day?"

I'm paraphrasing, but Tiemann's answer essentially went as follows: "Here at Red Hat, we challenge ourselves to blow it all up and start over every day."

Bigger Picture

My reading on those words: 

  • Status quo isn't good enough.
  • Every "norm" must face scrutiny.
  • Every market deserves to be flipped upside down -- at least on a white board -- to see where the pieces could potentially fall.
  • Every piece of conventional wisdom deserves to be challenged.
  • And every career deserves a "reset button" from time to time.

I'm not suggesting that Red Hat fully succeeds with that mission -- blowing up and starting over daily. But Red Hat has made considerable progress since my meeting with Tiemann in 2009. The "Linux" company now has deep capabilities in virtualization, software-defined storage, cloud and the list goes on.

As for me? I'm always trying to blow up my career and start over. The results have been mixed -- several failures and some success. But zero regrets because life never gets boring when you're taking risks (within reason...).

My latest risk? Walking away from a $371 million employer that had 37 percent profit margins. Goodbye steady paycheck. Hello lots of unknowns. Amy Katz took the same risk when we resigned from that employer around the same time in April 2014, and exited in May. About five months later, we mitigated the risk by reconnecting and launching After Nines Inc. in September 2014.

On the Move

Amy and I certainly are not alone. Plenty of folks are disrupting themselves -- and challenging conventional wisdom -- by leaving good, reliable jobs to pursue the unknown. Or by reinventing their current jobs or businesses.

The latest examples include Justin Crotty (now at MaintenanceNet), Luke Walling (striving to change the world of SMB security at Avast -- more on that, later) and Donovan Janus (empowering Solopreneurs at 17hats -- check out the podcast tonight). 

My key takeaway -- at least from my own experiences: If you're starting to feel comfortable in what you do that's often exactly the time to worry. I suspect you're about to be disrupted. Instead of waiting for someone to deliver that blow, perhaps it's time to proactively disrupt yourself.

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