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There’s more than one Easter Bunny… Author interview with Whitney Johnson

KozziEaster_eggsWhitney Johnson is the author of  Dare, Dream, Do,  and co-founder of Rose Park Advisors. She is now disrupting her career to speak, write and advise on disruptive innovation.


LitVote: Why is it advantageous to disrupt life as we know it? Isn’t that risky?


Whitney: It is risky! It’s very risky, but it’s riskier not to. If you think of life as a learning curve, one big learning curve, but also a series of learning curves, whenever you get to the top of the learning curve, it looks like it’s a plateau, so you can just sit there an relax and recline, which you can for a while, but what happens is that once you get to the top of a curve and you know how to do something, your brain goes on automatic, which is good, but it also stops feeling the feel good effects because you’re not learning anything. And so, you can actually precipitate your own decline: that plateau cantextbox become a precipice. What I find, is that the way to have the best kind of life is to continually seek out and scale a new learning curve, which means that every time you jump from one learning curve to the next in Tarzan-like fashion, you are in effect disrupting yourself. The conundrum here, or the dilemma is that if you do jump to a new curve, you obviously risk downward mobility, but if you don’t you do, too, and you’re much better off facing that dilemma when you choose to walk into it, rather than having it walk into you. Yes, it’s risky, but anecdotally, from a business standpoint, the research suggests that the odds of success are six times higher, and the revenue opportunity twenty times greater when you pursue a disruptive course. You still may fail, but those odds improve so significantly that it’s actually worth the risk.

LitVote: Wow. OK. That’s a good answer: riskier not to. Writing your article and writing your book, did you come across some kind of wisdom that you felt you learned from the act of writing the book? Is there any golden nugget that you can impart? Often when you write a book, you set out to tackle something that you’re grappling with, and as you write about it, you achieve it, and it teaches itself to you and you come away with some kind of golden nugget if it is something that transforms you as well as the opposite.

Whitney: The golden nugget for me was that I started out to write this book to persuade people, women in particular, that it was important to dream, sort of the masculine piece, but I think that comes from my background of working on the masculine piece working on Wall Street, etc. But, I think that the golden nugget for me in writing the book was that I focused a lot more on the feminine, the relational, the nurturing, the care giving, and I came to value that much, much more. That was sort of the finding that was unexpected, I would say, the golden nugget… We write something to find our voice because we’re trying to discover something, and I was trying to persuade people of the importance of dreaming, of the importance of being a ship, and I think in writing this, I discovered again and found myself embracing ever more the importance of being a harbor as I evaluated and watched so many people who do that so beautifully.

LitVote: I think women dream a lot, but I think they’re usually fed this fairytale dream of princesses and Prince Charming coming to rescue us and take care of everything, which ends up getting them lost or taken advantage of.

Whitney: Yeah, I agree. What I would say on that is, that’s a dream, and in some ways, that’s a little girl dream which is a wonderful thing for the princess dream, but the kind of dreaming I’m talking about is the grownup dream, the dream where we do something and we choose and we own our lives and we set sail and we own those choices, which is what a queen would do, versus a princess, or what a king would do versus a prince, and that’s the kind of dreaming that I’m talking about. I do think that women struggle to transition from those little girl princess dreams to the grownup, queen-type dreams.

LitVote: Nice. Great. You talk about ‘dating’ our dreams. How can we realize our dreams if we don’t commit to making them come true? And how is dating as opposed to committing advantageous to women anyway?

Whitney: Because women in particular are relational, from a very young age, at least I did, whenever I would date any boy, I would say, Am I going to marry him? Am I going to marry him? And the reality is that I didn’t know. And what I thought I wanted to marry, doesn’t turn out to be what I did marry, or even who was the right person for me to marry. And so, one of the reasons that I think that dating dreams is so important is that often times, dreams seem scary, they seem silly, they seem like they’re not us, and if we know that there’s a no-commitment clause, we’re much more likely to take that risk. Especially when we speed date, because then we say, OK those are five things and they look kind of pie-in-the-sky, I’m just going to spend five minutes online looking at this idea or thinking about it or talking to one person, and then three of them, I’ll probably go, eh, not really, and then two of them I might explore. So it allows you to really look at dreams like you would a courtship process, and it’s much more realistic and you’re much more likely to find the dreams that not only want to date you, but that you actually want to date.

LitVote: Did you meet any resistance trying to promote your business book because it was written by a woman?

Whitney: That’s a great question. I really love the questions you ask me. I think the answer to that is probably yes and no, and I’ll tell you why: because even though it was categorized as a business book, in my mind I didn’t think of it as a business book. But the question that sort of lingered for me as tried to answer your questions is that there are other books out on the market that have a lot of content pretty similar to mine that are written by men, and they are considered more businessy, and I think it’s simply because they’re written by men. So, I do think there’s some element to that. I think the other piece, though, is that some of the early push back I got was from male agents saying to me, you know, I’ve got a number of stories in the book that are in the actual voices of the women that have written them, and they wanted me to rewrite those stories in my own voice, and they wanted me to speak to my audience as if I were lecturing in a lecture hall as opposed to having a conversation, which is a very feminine thing to do as opposed to a masculine thing, and so that’s a kind of pushback that I got, and so that’s interesting to me because as you read the book you’ll see that it has a very relational style, sort of horizontal, as opposed to vertical style or approach. Having a conversation and educating.

Your book list was interesting. In your article ‘If You Want to Lead, Read These 10 Books’, you suggest some business books by women, but why does your list start with a book by a man when there are so many business books by men already?

Whitney: I would say, the order of the list was probably for a couple of reasons, number one is, if I think about what ideas have most influenced me, if I think about leadership, it really is the discovery of the psychologist Robert Johnson, who is a Jungian psychologist. That really informs my thinking about leadership generally. And so, on one level, even though it was important to me to include the voices of women who have influenced me, it would have actually been disingenuous if I hadn’t put that book first… Sometimes we make our points by legitimizing ourselves first, and if it had just been female, female, female, then it would have been easier for people to disregard what I was trying to say… One of my favorite books for people who want to pursue their dreams is called The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes written by DuBose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack, and it’s a story about a little bunny that wanted to grow up to be the Easter Bunny. It’s actually a beautiful story and really wonderfully depicts what I’m talking about. The book begins with the sentence: “We hear of the Easter Bunny who comes each Easter Day before sunrise to bring eggs for boys and girls, so we think there is only one.” Following are a few lines from the story that illustrate why we need to dream for ourselves, why we need to dream for our children, and how we can attend to our dreams while also attending to our relationships and ourselves. As we grow up, we sift through seeds of possibilities in the face of conflicting feelings and competing loyalties. Although the little bunny dreamed of becoming the Easter Bunny, she also dreamed of marrying and having twenty- one Cottontail babies. She made a choice, and as you read on you learn she honored her choice. As the bunny’s children grow, she helps them achieve the confidence and capacity to dream their own dreams by involving them and delegating to them. She says to her offspring who are competent, capable bunnies: “You have proved yourself to be not only wise and kind, and swift, but also very clever. Come to the Palace tomorrow afternoon, and you shall be my fifth Easter Bunny.” As a character, the Country Bunny illustrates that life can be a both/and proposition— she can attend to those whom she loves and to herself. She is wise and kind, and deeply connected to those she loves. She is also swift, clever, courageous, and open to possibilities. By seeking out possibilities, the bunny teaches her children to do the same. By delegating, she gives her children the skills to open doors to their own possibilities.

Litvote: Whitney, how does focusing both on our dreams and on other people in our lives make us happy?

Whitney: That goes to the psychology piece I was just alluding to. I’m a big fan of Jungian psychology, which shoots of on the article that I wrote, “If You Want to Lead, Read These 10 Books”. Basically, in Jungian psychology the idea is that every person comes equipped with two aspects to their psyche, a masculine and a feminine… In order for us to become complete people, we need to develop the masculine, which is the ability to wield power and control situations, and we need to develop the feminine as well, which is the relational and nurturing. And women typically start out with more of the feminine, and men typically start out with more of the masculine. So the masculine is this idea of going out and being a ship and sailing, and the feminine is this ability to stay in a harbor, or be a harbor. I believe that in order for us to truly be happy, we need to develop both the masculine and feminine, the ship and the harbor, and focus on our dreams, as well as the dreams of others. And one without the other, we’re not complete, and therefore not happy.

LitVote: By the looks of your Twitter following, you must be a regular business guru. What kinds of advice do people most often seek from you?

Whitney (laughing): The most typical advice people will ask me? They’ll have a startup idea that they want to vet with me; or obviously sometimes want funding; they’ll want to know if it’s disruptive or not; people that also want to reinvent or disrupt their lives. And then also the more personal question of, you know, how do I dream, how do I figure out my dreams? And I love Twitter, so it’s a great medium for me in terms of how I like to communicate and interact with people… It’s been pretty organic. So a lot of times people will reach out to me and say, we want you to come into our company and we want you to talk about innovation and how do you drive innovation throughout our organization, and I’ll look at it through the lens of disruption, and also this idea of personal disruption. So there’s this consulting that’s happening for corporations and institutions, but then there’s also these other two pieces that have been really fun, which is advising startups, where people will say I have an idea, I’m trying to get it off the ground, can you just come in and kind of be a S.W.A.T. person and help me through these next steps. And then there’s been a third piece that’s also been sort of fun, and I think this has really been an outcropping of writing Dare, Dream, Do where people come to me and say, you know, I’m trying to figure out what my dream is or how to move my dream forward, whatever it is, whether it’s I want to figure out an internship that I want to do cause I’m a college student, or I’m trying to do a mid-career change, and it will be a little bit more consulting/coaching. It’s all three, which has been really surprising and fun.

LitVote: Is it nuts and bolts of how to get a start-up going as well, or is it more psychological, how to look at this a different way outside of the box?

Whitney: It’s actually both. I’m on the advisory board for three or four startups, for example I’m working with one start-up right now who has a really good idea, it’s working really well, so we’ll talk, but we’ll run the gambit, everything from how are they going to go out and get funding, should they take funding or not, thinking through things strategically, who they should be talking to, what markets they should be going to, how do we scale…to sort of the psychology of it being scary… I end up being eminently qualified because I’ve been a qualified Analyst, and I’ve also been an entrepreneur, I’ve been an investor, and I’ve had enough years of therapy that I sort of understand psychology.


Whitney Johnson is the author of  Dare, Dream, Do

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