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When Is It Time to Change Your Internal Model of Reality?

Aidan McCullen, "Undisruptable" author, on creating a mindset of reinvention.

Key points

  • Author Aidan McCullen offers some tips based on his new book "Undisruptable," including how to change before it's forced upon you.
  • He suggests keeping a seamlessly flowing mindset amidst bottom-up and top-down daily realizations.
  • Technological change is exponential. Understanding the speed of change can help you to better cope with it.
Source: Image by Fintan Taite, used with permission
Source: Image by Fintan Taite, used with permission

Based on his newest book, Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organizations, and Life, ex-pro rugby player, consultant, and adjunct professor on transformation at Trinity College Business School, Dublin, author Aidan McCullen and I recently discussed creating a mindset for permanent reinvention.

In the book, Aidan illuminates a path for what he calls permanent reinvention, for both individuals and organizations. His strategy evolves around developing a seamlessly flowing mindset amidst bottom-up and top-down daily realizations. These can be about personal and interpersonal directions and goals. If you’d like an image to go with that, Aidan offers the constant motion conveyed by the infinity icon.

There's also an old Zen saying that comes to mind: Keep one eye on the destination and the other on the way. I get this same vibe in nearly every section of his carefully organized (and entertainingly argued!) model for transformation. In Zen, we eliminate the duality of here and there (including that of either being inside oneself or outside), preferring instead the constant synchronicity of here-there. And so does Undisruptable.

Importantly, Aidan presents the fulcrum for permanent change as being able to change before change is necessary. To do this, individuals and organizations need to be able to predict and see change as constant, inevitable, and flowing. They must tune in to the need for coming change as it exhibits itself and catch cues as they arise.

Source: Wiley

Undisruptable is a smart, informative book that smacks with crisp, entertaining analogies that make its points sparkle. The book is divided into sixteen segments (chapters), each introduced by humorous sketches.

One of my favorites is a tired mayfly before an enormous sequoia, commenting that the tree has been there his whole life and it has not grown even an inch. In the first sentence of this section, McCullen writes, “a mayfly lives for only two days, while a sequoia tree lives for over one thousand years.” The discussion is on perspective.

Aidan’s tone is lively, compassionate, and humanitarian. Each chapter concludes with a section on “Individual Considerations” and notes he calls, “Take Aways.”

I recently had a conversation with Aidan about Undisruptable. I’d like to share a bit of that with you here. We started off with life as a pro rugby player.

Aidan: I have had the wonderful privilege to get to the top of my game in rugby. I choose those words carefully, Joe, because there are three kinds of players in sport. There are the talented, the disciplined, and then the talented who are disciplined. I was more disciplined than talented.

The raw materials at my disposal were limited. I was that kid in high school who was last picked, so my starting point was low. It was discipline, coupled with vision that helped me represent my country and play for the two best clubs in Europe—Toulouse in France, and Leinster in Ireland.

My rugby career taught me a formula that I have used ever since: you start with a vision (it evolves), you persist with execution, it has a limited life cycle, you reinvent. Beginnings and endings are woven into the fabric of human existence, so embracing this fact is liberating.

Aside from being an author, Aidan is the host and founder of the Innovation Show and a consultant who works with organizational teams to improve how they engage and innovate. After playing rugby, he reinvented his career, moving to digital innovation and now culture and leadership.

Aidan: I have lived everything I share in the book, the highs and lows of reinvention, the pain of letting go, the joy of embracing of vision, the transience of things.

I believe that Aidan’s life is a profile of changing with change.

Aidan: I often interview authors about innovation, neuroscience, and transformation. It all led me to a conclusion that you cannot change business models until you change mental models, you cannot change what people do until you change how they think. I wanted to share this in a story-rich, metaphor-laden format that is digestible to anyone.

Another of my favorite sections of Undisruptable deals with the speed of change, especially with regard to artificial intelligence. We pursued that.

Aidan: Many organizations get caught out by disruption that they were aware of but did not address. Many disruptions are driven by technology, and at the heart of technological change is exponential speed of change. Exponential is unlike linear change; exponential change is doublings.

Think how far you would get if you walked 30 incremental steps, each out about a meter wide? 30 meters, right? How about 30 exponential steps? 30 exponential steps would bring you all the way to the moon and the last step would bring you from the moon right back to earth again. That is the power of exponential change, and it catches us off guard, because we don’t think exponentially.

And there’s much more on that. I encourage you to go to Undisruptable and discover it.

For a little how-to guidance, Aidan offers:

  • Write down what you can do and unbundle the tasks that make up your job.
  • Write down what you like to do, and what parts of your job light you up.
  • Now, see if you can add some new skills that will make your talents viable in a different field. Learn that missing skill now while in a job, and make time for it.

"When the rug is pulled from under your feet," Aidan says, "you will now have another rug to stand on. You will be undisruptable. Rinse, repeat. The more of us that are happy, the less discontent we are, the more harmony and the better treatment of each other we will engender."

Undisruptable is an easy and entertaining read with plenty of immediately useful tips.


1. McCullen, Aidan. Undisruptable. (West Sussex, UK, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2021)

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