How to Disrupt, Innovate and Grow Your Personal Brand

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Professor John Hoffmire, a lecturer in disruptive innovation at Peking University’s HSBC Business School. We spent several hours discussing disruptive tactics to gain market share, brand notoriety and industry dominance, and John shared a deep insight into what the term “disruption” actually means.

In my mind, to disrupt something, say a new industry, is to alter how things operate. For example, I previously wrote how disruptive sales strategies might halve their price to gain market share, to crash into a social scene more loudly than anyone else, or hire a power-team away from the competition and begin to dominate with a new offering. Following this logic, “Disruptive Innovation” is how you decide the most appropriate tactic for optimising the acquisition of market share.

However, this isn’t necessarily the case, and what follows is a summary of the three-hour masterclass and how it relates to Personal Branding.


“Disruptive Innovation” is a theory put forward by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School. Put simply, it is a type of challenge that creates new markets while upending existing markets in the process. It isn’t about destroying a market, but finding a new niche, price point and competence, that discourages competition.

The key principles of Disruptive Innovation theory are:

1. Focus on market segments that seem unattractive to existing competitors.

2. Provide offerings that are “good enough” to satisfy the most important needs without overshooting.

3. Offer services/goods at a price point that is too low for the incumbents to be interested in trying to compete.


Christensen demonstrated this theory by describing the disruption of the computer industry.

The first computers were worth millions of dollars and required years of training in order to operate them. The prohibitive cost of the first computers, meant that they were only available to top companies and universities. Entrepreneurs, sensing value in providing simple, cost effective computing, began to experiment with ways to make them more affordable and available. This led to home computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets.

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How can we extend this theory to Personal Branding?

In many ways, we are similar to the pioneers of the computer industry, because everybody has the ability to build a personal brand that promotes their business and passion. Just like these pioneers, we can become comfortable in our work and brand. Comfort is a good thing. But comfort is a problem when it causes us to plateau or be complacent. We must continually innovate, and this requires us to recognise the value of disruption, and the potential opportunities and rewards it can bring.


"Do one thing every day that scares you."

Eleanor Roosevelt


Whitney Johnson, the author of “Disrupt Yourself”, has taken the concept of Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation theory and come up with five suggestions on ways that we can start disrupting ourselves. 

1. Assess where we are, versus where we would like to be.

By acknowledging this gap, we can determine how to resolve it. In the context of personal branding, this might include rethinking your audience amplification plan, networking strategy or end goals.

2. We must iterate.

This means we must keep trying, repeating, assessing and adjusting. It is common that the initial way someone starts down a path will not be the same in a week, month, year, or five years from now.

3. Embrace our constraints and strengths.

The phrase “creativity loves constraints” applies to disruptive innovation. When we recognise our constraints, we can figure out how to solve these issues through our strengths. However, first we must know our strengths and how best to utilise them.


4. Be impatient.

Have a strong desire to prosper and do not be amenable to opposition, delay or easy wins. However, it is essential to be patient with ourselves while waiting for big wins.

5. Start now.

We must challenge our core beliefs, systematic processes and disruptive threats, then take action.

Disrupting yourself often instills fear, stress and anxiety, because we associate it with chaos and disorder. Disruption pushes us outside our comfort zones and allows us to continually learn and grow. You have two choices, wait for it to find you, or adopt a process of continuous personal disruption and adaptation.


“In the fast-paced, technologically accelerated world, the 'comfort zone' has become our greatest competitor.”

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I have read and reviewed 39 books so far this year (click to view), having never previously taken the time to read. It hasn’t been easy, but has expanded my mind and forced reflection and improvement. I will continue with my goal of a book per week, because I believe in doing what is necessary to maintain a competitive edge, regardless of whether it lies within, or outside, of my comfort zone.

How will you disrupt yourself in 2018?

To follow Professor Hoffmire, subscribe to his newsletter He is a person of great depth and wisdom.