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Choose Your Parents Wisely

“My teachers were really concerned about me,” he says, laughing. “They were concerned about my mental health. They called my mother in. They said, ‘He’s disrupting the other kids. Could you ask him to come to school dressed like a normal kid.’”

So shares Aaron Dignan, founder of The Ready, an organizational design firm in New York City. Dignan sits on digital strategy boards for General Electric, American Express and PepsiCo, as well as the board of directors for Smashburger.

“This was in the first grade,” he continued. “I had become obsessed with Batman because there was no magic; he was just an inventor. So Mom made me a Batman costume, which I wore to school every day for sixth months.

“Most parents would have given in to the authority figure and agreed to get me to stop wearing the costume. Not my mother. She’s a theater teacher and a little militant in her creativity. So she said, ‘No, I’m not going to put any boxes around this kid. He’s a different kid; he needs to do his own thing.’”

Society, the system, school, The Man: they all have one thing in common… they train you to conform, to fit in, to tone it down, to sit in neat rows until called upon.

Disruptive heroes will have none of that. Yet most don’t buck the system on their own — they chose their parents wisely.

Their adventurous spirit has always been nurtured and sponsored, so it could be a foundation for what they do in later life.

Dignan ties everything he does today — helping other companies create disruptive changes — back to how his mom stuck up for him in that moment, and how she modeled certain behaviors for him. His creativity: “Thanks, Mom.” His individuality: “Thanks, Mom.”

Does that mean if you didn’t have Dignan’s mom, or weren’t encouraged to be disruptive as a child, you’re screwed? You won’t be able to develop the character traits you need? Of course not.

However, what you do need lies within the first of seven essential disruptive traits:

Choosing one’s parents may not be possible.

But the spirit of choosing wisely is imperative

for today’s disruptive world.

Throughout our lives, we must seek out

and form family-like bonds with the people

who will teach us, guide us, love us —

event tough-love us–toward adventure,

exploring, and risk-taking.

Of course we can’t choose our parents, wisely or not.

But disruptive heroes understand we need someone like that in our life, long after we leave the nest. And we need to constantly seek them out.

Excerpted from Bill Jensen’s book, The Courage Within Us, which covers the crucial character traits necessary to survive and thrive in today’s crazy disruptive world. Bill’s latest book is Future Strong.


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Bill Jensen makes it easier to do great work. He helps companies and teams double their productivity and pursue their passions. Bill has spent the past 25 years studying how work gets done. (Much of what he’s found horrifies him.) Bill is an internationally-acclaimed thought leader who is known for extremely useful content, with a passion for making it easier for everyone to work smarter, not harder. His first book, Simplicity, was the Number 5 Leadership/ Management book on Amazon in 2000. His eighth book, Future Strong, is available on Amazon. Bill is CEO of The Jensen Group. Among his clients are Bank of America, Merck, Pfizer, GE, L’Oréal Italia, Genentech, NASA, The World Bank, BBC, Philips Lighting, the US Navy SEALS, the government of Ontario, Singapore Institute of Management, Guangzhou China Development District, and the Swedish Post Office. Bill’s personal life fantasy is to bicycle around the globe via breweries.

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