What Author James Patterson Told Me About Disruption

I had a wonderful experience this week. Author James Patterson joined me, my co-instructor, and 30 students in our Vanderbilt University classroom to talk about his life and career. It was a rare and insightful 75-minute conversation and exchange of ideas.

Odds are, you are familiar with the name James Patterson or, at the very least, his work.

Perhaps you have seen Patterson’s name adorning bookstore shelves, or maybe you have read several of his titles featuring Alex Cross, Michael Bennett, and a litany of other well-known characters. You may even be a Patterson super fan reading his work in genres ranging from mysteries and thrillers to young adults and science fiction.

He is a force in the publishing world who has produced some staggering results. James Patterson’s books have sold over 305 million copies, and he has written 114 New York Times bestsellers, 67 of which reached the #1 spot. Those are Guinness Book of World Record numbers. In the United States alone, one of every 17 hardcover novels sold each year is a James Patterson book. It is estimated that he has earned nearly $1 billion in royalties.

During his talk, Patterson addressed the power of disruption and encouraged all of us to step up and disrupt. To illustrate his point, he shared 21 disruptions from his work and life.

His disruptive examples ranged from landing his first advertising job to shaking up the entire publishing industry. As he went down the disruptive path, he explained each decision: Why he chose to change jobs amid tremendous success; Why he bucks the system and works with multiple coauthors; and why he releases several books a year in an industry that follows a one book per author per year cadence.

James Patterson walks to the beat of his own drum. He’s disruptive. He trusts his gut. He has found what he loves to do in life, and he chooses every day to do it.

His message was simple. We should all do the same in our lives.

It got me thinking about the opportunity for disruption in my world and yours. It inspired me to create this week’s tool: Step Up and Disrupt: 6 Questions to Trust Your Gut, Take a Risk, and Change the World. The tool poses six questions:

  1. What opportunities for disruption exist in your world, on your team, and with your customers?
  2. What would it look like to make a bold move in a new direction?
  3. What is your gut telling you to do?
  4. What is holding you back from doing it?
  5. What is the worst that could happen, and is the worst that bad?
  6. What’s the upside if you pull it off?

Use the tool and video to explore your answers to these questions and encourage others to do the same. Messing up the status quo might feel uncomfortable and risky, but as Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”