Fifth-annual WILD Summit inspires women to make innovative changes

By: Shelley Widhalm Monday February 27, 2017 Tags: Westminster, WILD Summit, The Women's Council, Whitney Johnson, Denis Soler Cox, Donna Lynne, Ash Beckham, Lizelle van Vuuren


By Shelley Widhalm

WESTMINSTER -- Making positive change is about getting uncomfortable, taking risks and failing -- and it’s about disruption.

Author Whitney Johnson asked the more than 550 women in a Westminster hotel conference room Friday to personally disrupt themselves.

The women -- and a few men in all stages of their careers from students to professionals -- attended the fifth annual Women Inspiring Leadership Development (WILD) Summit. They heard keynote speeches and attended breakout sessions on the idea of change and how to be inspired in their businesses and professions.WILD_Summit_logoUSE

“How do you put power of personal disruption to work? First, take the right risks,” said Johnson, author of “Disrupt Yourself” and “Dare, Dream, Do,” and a former hedge fund manager.

“What is your disruptive path? Why do you disrupt?”

The daylong summit, carrying the tagline “Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change,” provided a professional forum for women to learn how to adapt to change and to initiate change to impact their successes.

The summit is an annual event of The Women’s Council, in partnership with The Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, a network of business leaders who share their expertise with students.

Johnson said she developed her theory of personal disruption based on Clayton Christensen’s concept of “disruptive innovation.” The Salt Lake City author and business consultant came up with the concept to explain how individuals and companies introduce simplicity and accessibility into complex markets or to create something new where markets do not yet exist.

For Johnson, the concept can be applied at the personal and professional levels to make changes, be innovative and to reinvent one’s self.

“To be successful, you don’t cope with disruption … you harness its unpredictability and use its power to propel you forward,” Johnson said during her morning keynote speech.

Women who pursue disruption are six times more likely “to play in an area where no one else plays” and 20 times more likely to be successful, Johnson said.

She used asphalt to demonstrate that disruption, explaining how the material has a great deal of compression strength but little tensile strength to withstand pressure from within.

“Tensile strength can work in your favor,” she said, quoting Leo Tolstoy’s “Disruptive movement must come from within.”

Johnson outlined several internal accelerants of personal disruption that include taking risks by playing where no one else is playing, and going after a project, role or customer that is dull or out of favor, she said.

“If you can create the market, guess who is going to get the job? You,” Johnson said.

The other accelerants Johnson pointed out included playing to personal strengths, embracing constraints, battling entitlement, stepping back to grow, giving failure its due and being discovery-driven with a willingness to alter plans.

“There is no such thing as standing still. Sometimes the only way up is down,” Johnson said. “Innovation ultimately begins on the inside.”

Denise Soler Cox, a Denver-based indie filmmaker and national speaker, said she realized she was “standing still” by acting out of fear and making excuses for 17 years to not develop her film, “Project ñ.”

The film, now showing in select theaters, is an unorthodox documentary about first-generation American-born Latinos that uses the connection of stories to create community among Latinos.

Cox, who spoke during the luncheon keynote, said she knew what she was supposed to be doing -- her project -- but also knew she didn’t have all of the skills she needed, so she procrastinated.

“I realized I had an unwillingness problem. I was unwilling to be uncomfortable,” said Cox, explaining that she gave up some of her material comforts to take on the project, take risks and become an entrepreneur.

“It’s so, so worth it over here.”

The only way to learn is to take risks, said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who spoke about starting to climb 14ers at age 54. She encouraged women to take risks, promote themselves, build their networks and speak up when they see something they don’t like to help eliminate the gender gap in the professional world.

“Speak up and don’t be afraid of that. Be willing to take risks, and extend your hand to other women,” Lynne said.

“It’s not time to be patient. We need your energy, your action as we move forward.”

The summit attendees chose from two sets of breakout sessions on practical ways they could move forward with change. The sessions covered communication skills, networking, lifelong learning, getting advice and risk-taking.

Viral social influencer Ash Beckham of Denver and entrepreneur Lizelle van Vuuren of Longmont focused on internal and external risk-taking in their session on “Risky Business: Harnessing Your Woman Power When Things Get Hard.”

They asked a packed room to respond via text about what the biggest personal obstacles are to taking risks, and 47 percent responded “fear” and 33 percent said “low confidence.”

“On the other side of risk is regret. Be far more afraid of regret,” van Vuuren said.

Van Vuuren encouraged learning from failure and seeing it as success for trying.

“Try new things no matter how uncomfortable,” she said.

Shelley Widhalm

About the Author: Shelley Widhalm

Shelley Widhalm is a freelance writer and editor and founder of Shell's Ink Services, a writing and editing service based in Loveland, Colo. She has more than 15 years of experience in communications and holds a master's in English from Colorado State University. She can be reached at or [email protected].