What is Specific. Why is General.

Many people define their career by what they do. Ask them to describe their experience and they will give you an account of years in a role in an industry. The answer will be a dry recitation of their curriculum vitae. Focusing on this list of what narrows their potential future opportunities. If we start looking to fit them to another similar role in the same industry we have narrowed the world of opportunity down significantly. Poor recruiters consider candidates against a role and industry checklist, but we all know that roles and time is a very narrow understanding of how people contribute to their organisation.

Change the question. Ask people why they enjoy their work and you will get a much richer answer. They will tell a story and their eyes light up. Perhaps the answer will be about the challenge, the learning and the problem solving.  Perhaps it will be about the ability to help others or to achieve a particular personal or strategic goal. Perhaps they enjoy their work because of others with whom they get to work.

That answer is much more powerful in helping an individual frame what opportunities are ahead. Focusing on the why increases the opportunities to contribute to that purpose beyond one role or one industry. Focusing on the why also makes it more likely that future opportunities deliver a sense of personal reward.

Roles and industries come and go. With accelerating change and disruption, we need to all be open to the adaptation that arises when you focus on why.

What is the Opportunity Cost of Your Time?

Opportunity cost is the value you give up by making a choice. Every moment of your life has an opportunity cost. What you decide to do with that moment is a choice. Every moment offers other choices that can create new value and opportunities for you.

If you don’t make choices, there is a good chance opportunity costs are accumulating against you. The paths you haven’t considered and the choices you have deferred might be more rewarding. These choices are rarely as difficult as you think.

If you don’t insist on reciprocity for your relationships and your efforts, then you will likely find that you will rue the opportunity cost of your choice. Work, relationships and other opportunities tend to be like buses. They all come at once. Take the first one on unfavourable terms and you might rue the missed opportunities later.

Consider the opportunity cost of your time. You will make better choices.

The Hustle

Want to do something meaningful? Meaningful is hard. It is going to take hustle.

Meaningful is Hard

There is no truer statement than “if it was easy, someone would have done it by now”. Making change that matters and doing purposeful work takes effort. The obstacles are real. They are the real work.  Do the work.  

The effort begins with understanding what impact you want to have. Then you have to understand how you can fulfil your purpose. Lastly you need to find people to work with and opportunities to tackle. Finally you get to find out whether you can make a living through working on your purpose. Some times purpose is a living but others times purpose turns out to be a hobby or a calling.

To make matters worse, you need to do all that work in the wrong order and in overlapping steps. In many cases the answers are unclear or contradictory. You do the work and you learn a little more about where you are going.  You keep doing the work and you learn even more. The work sustains you and provides momentum & networks that matter. 

The Hustle Required

There is far more hustle required than you expect. Here’s one example of the hustle required to persuade others: 2% of sales are closed in the first meeting. Yes, 98% of the pitches fail when every failed pitch feels like time to call it quits. 80% of sales are closed after more than 5 follow-up calls, when every empty call feels like time to move on. No wonder 44% of sales people give up after only one follow-up. The winners are those who hustle more and hustle longer. Remember these numbers come from enterprise sales, if your change is more unique or more unusual it could require even more hustle to find your market.  The winners in change stay in the game and they hustle.

The hustle is just working intensively on your purpose: making connections, building relationships, identifying problems and offering ways to solve them. You don’t need to use sharp practices. There are no shortcuts. They will only cut you in the end. You need to do more than “build it” and “turn up”. You need to get out into the market and challenge people to listen to your pitch. 

Hustle. Work your purpose hard. Remember to take the odd break to reflect and reset yourself for the next burst of hustle. If you work it continuously, the hustle will become the Grind.

You Can’t Live A Cliché

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
– Dialogue from The Graduate. Directed by Mike Nichols. Written by Charles Webb, Calder Willingham and Buck Henry.

A cliché like any other meme appeals at first because of its comfortable familiarity. However we soon discover that overuse has robbed it of its meaning or worse drawn in a the dark side of platitudes, cynicism and other unwanted resonances. We can’t live a cliché. We must choose our own new path.

Many people stress that they can’t live the life of a comfortable cliché. Either they don’t want one of the well trodden paths or they have met an accident on the way that changes their trajectory. They think that their path should be the same as others, the same as the expectations of their society or even safer, easier or more comfortable, like the nodding response to a cliché.

Every cliché begins as a novelty – an unique choice. It becomes tired when others fail to exercise their choice and just repeat it unthinkingly. The lack of choice and consideration opens up the path to dullness and darkness.

A cliché usually disguises a much more complicated reality. Life is much more complicated and the real paths that others take have many hidden vicissitudes. Trying to force thinks to meet a template of success is usually an exercise of much frustration and little value.

We cannot escape choice. The paths of others can be a guide and an inspiration. However we still need to choose our own way. We must embrace the novelty of our own choices & circumstances. Our desires and accidents are guidance to our own unique path, not a delay or a distraction from the cliché.

We can’t live in the light plastic emptiness of a cliché. Our daily choices push us into something far more valuable.

Your next career network

Your next career is about your networks as much if not more than your expertise. 

Jon Husband made an insightful comment on my post asking ‘What’s your next career?’ Jon noted your next network is an important question too. 

I meet many talented people who haven’t had the success that they deserve. They have great expertise & potential. What they lack are the networks to grow or share their expertise. Without the support of networks to remain current and to offer new edge opportunities the expertise goes wasted. 

Today global networks power expertise in ways that change the game. In Moses Naim’s End of Power he highlights that there are more chess grandmasters than ever because there are more opportunities than ever for people to connect, learn and play. With access to global experts powered by global connection you can’t assume opportunities will find you if you are not engaged in building and sharing your expertise. 

Your step into your next career is going to ask people to take a chance on someone unproven. Whatever your expertise, people will make that decision based on their relationship with you or your relationship with people that they trust. Network connections enable career change. 

We have all heard about the 10,000 hours to build mastery. What is less discussed is the deep network connections required to support mastery. As you commit 10,000 hours to developing your next career spend half that on the network and you will get exponential results. Thick networks of connection help with any transformation.  

What’s your next career?

A simple question that shocks people.

In my twenties I hard worked really hard to get into my chosen career. I looked around the organisations I worked in and I noticed something. All the grey haired people were being pushed out. A few successful ones got to stay but most were gone with their potential ahead of them. I realised I needed a second career for later.

I have only a little grey hair left today and I’m still not as old as the people I saw leaving. My life today is more like a sixth career but it had its foundations in asking myself the question ‘what’s your next career?’ I still have more options to go.

Too many people have no answer or haven’t even considered the question. They are just lucky the question has not yet been forced on them.

We may not be able to predict the average number of careers easily but it is more than one. When we add robots, automation and new career options, there is a good chance that we need to be at least considering future options. There’s an opportunity cost to every decision to stay put.

Understand your options. Grow your skills and capabilities. Build networks for careers beyond your first one. Experiment with different things to discover your purpose and to gain experience for next steps. You will find these things make it more likely you get to stay in your current career too.

This career won’t be your last so plan an answer to the question. Then when you have that plan start bringing it to life. If nothing else, prepare yourself that you might need to stop defining yourself by your current role.

Opportunity Cost

The value of your time is not what you are doing now. The value is what you could be doing.

In economics, the opportunity cost is the value of the best option forgone in making a choice. The option given up may well be more valuable than the option chosen.

We don’t consider opportunity cost of our time quite as often as we should. Time is scarce. Time comes only once and expires every minute. We either allocate time well or we miss out on the value it can create. Realising the value of time is about choices. If we don’t consider our options or don’t chose, we waste time.

The value of time need not be measured in money. Often the opportunity cost of our current great income is a far larger sense of satisfaction, happiness and better relationships with others in our lives.

The opportunity cost may also be our learning, growth and new options. We often discount the value of options and uncertainty. We can’t find out the uncertain value of an opportunity if we never try. The comedian Jim Carrey shared a little wisdom about options when he said ‘You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well do what you love’.

Ask yourself ‘what’s the best use of my time now?’ Make choices taking account of the opportunity cost of your time. Realise the value you might otherwise be missing.

What you don’t do

We think in life about what we have done and it’s influence on who we are. The flip side is what we don’t do. What we don’t do defines us just as much.

What we didn’t do: the conversation we wanted to have, the followup we missed, the extra effort we could have made, the thought we overlooked, the ideas we never shared, purpose unmet, and the plans left unfulfilled.

What we can’t do: the skills we haven’t yet learned, the practice not yet perfected, the knowledge unknown, the bias & privilege we can’t see, the conflicts avoided, the sponsorship we missed, the advice unheard, and the deadline that’s gone.

What we won’t do: the values we will keep, the choices rejected, the beliefs unquestioned, the paths abandoned and the changes embraced.

Not all of what we do we control. Some opportunities depend on others. Some moments are so deeply held that they don’t feel like a choice. Whether we control it or not, what we don’t do affects us and deserves attention.

Enable Employee Careers through Learning

There is no organisational strategy without the capability to execute it. The demands of a disruptive economy mean organisations need to create systemic approaches that scale learning through every role, Big Learning. However, organisations need to build employee capability in their interests and not just for the sake of the organisation.

Holding on to a Wooden Box

Imagine you asked a friend to hold a wooden box for you.  If they are a good friend, they might hold it for an hour or so. Some will give up and take it home to return it later.  A great friend might put it down and stay by for a little longer. Very few would bother with the box for more than that without some further instructions, some value to them or some better proof of the worth of the exercise. 

Yet organisations continue to ask employees to learn knowledge and skills for the sake of the organisation. Worse still, these approaches to learning are often rolled out with little communication as to the value of the learning for the organisation, let alone the employee. 

Consider mandatory role and compliance learning. To employees it is as mysterious as the box request and it is cannot be escaped. The signals sent remind employees that it is designed to protect the organisation as part of a compliance system, rather than helping the achievement of employee goals. 

The employee is left to complete the learning for the organisation and then forget it. There’s little surprise that much learning is wasted and is not applied to help organisations achieve strategic goals.

Enable Employee Careers & Purpose

Imagine you had a friend who shared that they wanted to develop a career as a public speaker. You might explain that practice & feedback is a critical part of developing as a public speaker and you could help them see that a wooden box would let them speak at a speaker’s corner whenever they want. There’s a far greater chance your friend is going to make an effort to carry their own box. 

Organisations can do more to make their key strategic learning a part of a process of creating greater career options for employees. Learning that advances employee goals first is more engaging, more effective and more likely to endure. Very few people will seek mastery in a skill that is imposed on them. Mastery requires purpose.

Working in this way begins with employees goals and enabling the employee learning journey through all their work. Learning in this approach means thinking beyond tasks & roles to lifetime needs and career lattices.  In addition to specific technical skills, learning must develop portable skills that increase the diversity of an employee’s career options. 

Designing first for the employee journey while still achieving the organisations strategic needs will improve the effectiveness of learning. Importantly it is a key part of creating an Big Learning environment where every employee contributes to the ability of the organisation to learn and improve

From Bucket List to Purpose

I am beginning to have a problem with the bucket list. A bucket list is a list of experiences or achievements to have fulfilled by the time you die. My problem with bucket lists is that they are too often laundry lists of notable achievements, socially recognised moments and exotic travel destinations. It is rare to see a bucket list with an internal logic.

If a bucket list takes this form, then it is simply another manifestation of the overhang of expectations.  The image of the grim reaper cutting short bucket lists creates an unnatural urgency.  That urgency can be used to create consumer demand. Promoting experiences as ‘bucket list-worthy’ have become a way to market experiences from the mundane to the sublime. The bucket list is the latest manifestation of consumer marketing, the experience you have to have. There is no end to things that we just have to have on our bucket lists.

Life isn’t determined by what we have to have. There is precious little that we have to have. Once we move beyond meeting the needs of living standards, quality of life is determined by more than what we have. Quality of life is determined by the impact we choose to have on the world.  

Those choices arise as you make each decision on work, on relationships and on living. Many of these choices are the mundane, everyday living choices that are a far remove from the exotic one-off experiences of the bucket list.  However, over time what these choices will share in common is your personal sense of purpose.  Realising a personal inner purpose over the many obstacles is how each of us can help realise our potential. That is far more important than the fleeting experience of ticking off a random list.

A fully ticked bucket list will keep you busy but won’t necessarily let you die happy. A life of fulfilling purpose will.