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Dare to dream at work

3 min read


The 21st century is characterized by one dominant trait — self-determination. Gone are the days of mass production, economies of scale and standardization typical for last century. We, as a people, have a deep sense that it is our privilege to “make” ourselves.

Many times in my career, I tried to “make” myself only to be shunned. In 2000, for example, I jumped from Salomon Smith Barney to Merrill Lynch with the goal of dreaming a new dream. I wanted to challenge myself and grow but when I approached my managers about a new opportunity, they told me to stay put. So I switched firms.

By 2005, having been Institutional Investor-ranked for eight years straight, I again felt ready for a new learning curve. When I approached management, I heard the same script: “We like you just where you are.” This time, I took my dreams and walked out of the industry.

Much of the corporate world is not open to allowing us to work toward our dreams. It is too costly and risky for its manage-by-the-masses order. Not only can we not ‘make’ ourselves, for many it’s a struggle to not come undone.

But things are changing.

Just as Henry Ford turned the world upside down with mass production and physical assets, his world will be upended by businesses that understand and promote selfhood, an intangible asset. Research indicates that intangibles already make up between 60% and 80% of global corporate worth. However, according to an EIU survey of senior managers in 2004, 94% of respondents said managing intellectual capital was important. But 95% said they had no system in place to measure the performance of this asset class. In other words, 20th-century corporations like Salomon and Merrill are missing the most important drivers of value: people and their dreams.

There is a rising tide of entrepreneurs, like myself, who have bid farewell to the old guard and have decided to pursue dreams free from corporate shackles. These dreams are making the world better. They’re solving problems, developing products, and offering services never seen before or thought possible. Elon Musk, for example, is dreaming up ideas ranging from electric cars to space stations.

Dreaming is already the driver of our personal lives. In a free society, we have the luxury of determining for ourselves where we will go, what interests us, how we spend our money and time. Isn’t it high time we hauled the 20th-century en masse managerial mentality to the scrap heap and put dreams into the driver’s seat at work? Dreamers are disruptors, and if corporations want to survive into the back half of the 21st century, they’ll embrace and follow the dreamers instead of the herd: what a wonderful day’s work that would be.

Whitney Johnson is an investor, speaker, author, and leading thinker on driving innovation through personal disruption.  Her new book. “Disrupt Yourself,” comes out this October. To learn more, visit