Archives For Career Development

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The last time I quit a job, I was 15, and it was my newspaper delivery route. Other than a few internships with fixed terms, I’ve worked at just one company since leaving graduate school: IDEO. So what do I have to offer about the topic?

Quitting an organization and quitting a job are not the same thing. While I’ve never quit IDEO, I have quit roles within the company several times. And this is why I think the distinction matters: If you find a place and a group of collaborators who bring out the best in you, leaving that behind just to find the next career opportunity is a big price to pay.

This was the case for me. The creatively confident, collaborative culture at IDEO has inspired me and brought more out in me than I ever thought possible. It started from day one and has never let up. Over the last two-and-a-half decades, I’ve gone through multiple job titles and even more roles. Even since taking on the mantle of CEO some 15 years ago now, I’ve done my best to redesign the job every few years so that I continue to grow my impact and learn.

Reid Hoffman describes this as doing “tours of duty” in his 2013 HBR article. Whether or not your organization officially embraces the idea of tours of duty, there’s nothing to stop you from doing it. Consciously anticipate quitting your current role and design what you want the next one to be. If it can be in the same company, great. If not, at least you’ll be in the position of understanding what you’re looking for out in the world. For most people, this is the way it works out at some point – or many points – in their career. But my experience shows that it doesn’t have to be that way. Staying with the same company can be just as exhilarating as switching to a different one.

Back when I joined IDEO (actually, it wasn’t even called IDEO back then), my plan was to work for my mentor Bill Moggridge for two or three years, then venture out to set up my own company. But I found that the creative culture at IDEO was far too valuable for me to give up. Ever since, by consciously trying to design my next job, I’ve never had to leave the organization I love.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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One of the most important choices I made in my career was one I didn’t even realize I was making.

When I graduated from design school, I was pretty sure about what I wanted to do with my life. I was fascinated with industrial design, and was happily imagining spending the rest of my career developing skills and creating products that would have lasting impact. I hoped to emulate my heroes, iconic designers like Dieter RamsEttore Sottsass and Philippe Starck, whose bodies of design work have spanned everything from timeless furniture to spectacular architectural monuments.

While I did stay on a design career track, it followed a path I never anticipated. Rather than diving deep into the single discipline of industrial design, I accidentally discovered the joys of working across disciplines. Thanks to my mentor, the co-founder of IDEO Bill Moggridge, I quickly added other design work to my arsenal: design strategy, user research, interaction design, service design and ultimately, as I took on the role of CEO of IDEO, business design.

The more confident I became in my ability to explore new disciplines and cross boundaries, the more I became intrigued with complex problems, such as designing healthcare or education systems. In fact, I believe these are some of the most compelling creative and business challenges today, and I’m happy with my choice to go wide.

But this is not meant to be an argument in favor of choosing wide over deep. I have many colleagues who took the alternative path and have achieved incredible impact in the world, such as Apple’s Jony Ive or Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa.

Here’s what I’m saying: Although my unplanned career path turned out fine, choosing to go wide versus deep should be made consciously, not accidentally. Each path offers tremendous reward if followed with passion and commitment, but each requires different skills and approaches to be successful.

Going deep requires incredible focus, lifelong commitment to a single cause, a willingness to be patient towards achieving success, and the confidence to follow a path others may not understand or value. Whether it’s as a research scientist, designer, chef or software engineer, committing to a single discipline and pushing it as far as you possibly can holds the potential to make a significant dent on the planet.

Going wide, on the other hand, is about making connections between what you already know and what you’re curious about discovering. It requires systems thinking in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. It means developing the skills to collaborate for the purpose of learning. It’s about seeing the creative possibilities in breaking down boundaries and describing the world, your organization, the problem in new ways. It probably means having a difficult time describing to your parents what you do.

Taken seriously, though, the interdisciplinary path opens up a host of purposeful challenges that can be approached through the lenses of science, the arts, business or non-profit and, of course, some combination of all of them.

In your career, what choices are you making between going deep or going wide?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Stuck in a Job You Hate?

December 2, 2013 — 3 Comments

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Illustration Credit: Alyana Cazalet

Don’t let fear of failure constrict your career.

While there’s a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, new figures from Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report suggest having a personally rewarding job isn’t one of them. Just 30 percent of employees say they’re engaged and inspired at work, while over half (52 percent) admit to checking in physically, but out mentally. Even worse, the remaining 18 percent are infecting others with their unhappiness. When you consider the average adult spends over 90,000 hours of his or her life at work, job dissatisfaction becomes a problem of epic proportions.

One hurdle to looking for a more satisfying job might be monetary. The economy’s still a bit shaky, it feels risky to jump ship. But I’m guessing the bigger hurdle is mental. It can be scary to change things up, especially if it means learning new skills. While it might take a while for the economy to right itself, job-haters can do something today to change their predicament: “touch the snake.”

You might have come across this seemingly counterintuitive phrase in Creative Confidence, the new book by my friends and colleagues Tom and David Kelley. They’re not suggesting a literal serpent, of course, but the “fear of failure” coiled up in our brains, ready to paralyze us with inaction at the smallest provocation. The Kelleys were inspired by Albert Bandura, the world-renowned psychologist and Stanford University professor. Bandura developed an approach to overcoming fears called “guided mastery.” Using real snakes, Bandura would walk people through a step-by-step desensitization process. First, he’d say there was a snake in the next room. Next, he’d make them stand at the door. Eventually, they were able to walk inside the room and touch the snake without anxiety. After that, their phobias were gone. As it turns out, guided mastery doesn’t just help people with lifelong phobias, it can help those looking to make life changes, too.

Many years ago, for instance, I decided I wanted to be a designer, but didn’t know what it entailed. At university, I gradually learned the process of design by doing it. At first, I wasn’t very good (in fact, most of my ideas were pretty terrible), but step by step I got better and, by the time I graduated from college, some of my ideas were good enough they made it to market. Any doubts I had about being a designer had disappeared, thanks to a series of small successes. Bandura would call this belief in my creative abilities “self-efficacy.”

This holiday weekend, if you count yourself among the disaffected 70 percent of employed Americans, I challenge you do some soul-searching between bites of turkey. Ask yourself: What’s your “snake”? What’s holding you back from having a job that fulfills you personally as well as professionally? What small steps could you take right now to get you on the road to your dream job? As Bandura discovered, any action, however big or small, is the best antidote to fear.

How will you start down the road of your new working life?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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One of my first jobs was redesigning industrial woodworking machines.

Beyond the odd paper round, I landed my first paying job in high school as a store clerk for the local Waitrose. It was at this venerable UK supermarket chain that I learned to show up on a regular basis and received my first lessons in business culture.

The manager of the store was a friendly man who took care to offer leadership lessons whenever the opportunity arose. Heading out to the parking lot one day, I was surprised to find him standing waist-deep in a huge recycling bin. After stomping down the cardboard boxes, he leapt out and saw me staring at him with a quizzical look on my face. Why was he, the boss, doing one of the least glamorous tasks in the grocery store, I wondered? “Don’t ask others to do things you’re not prepared to do yourself,” was his simple, but eternally resonant, reply.

Working at Waitrose, I also learned the value of creating a strong culture. The company is part of the John Lewis Partnership, which was founded with the express purpose of promoting the happiness of its members and an early forbearer of today’s Conscious Capitalism movement. All Waitrose employees were both members of the partnership and shareholders in the business—even lowly high schoolers like myself. When I attended the Annual General Meeting or received my yearly profit-sharing bonus, I felt I belonged to an organization, rather than merely working for it. More than 30 years later, I still enjoy stopping by the store when I return to my hometown.

Despite my fondness for clerking at Waitrose, I found my first real design job at Wadkin Bursgreen, an industrial manufacturer of woodworking machinery, as it was called then. I was an undergraduate industrial design student and hoping to ply my trade for such edgy companies as Braun, Sony, and Olivetti. Wadkin, by comparison, seemed rather staid and traditional—they had never hired a designer before.

While my six-month stint lacked a certain glamour, I realized the job was a huge opportunity. Instead of treating me like the budding intern I was, the head of engineering gave me license to redesign as many of their machines as possible. By the end of that summer, I had reimagined over half a dozen of them, and by the time I graduated from college two years later, they were already in production: a huge boon to my portfolio!

On the surface, my job at Wadkin looked unpromising, but it afforded me far more creative freedom than the trendier positions my fellow undergraduates were jousting for. Being given the permission to imagine the future of woodworking—without the fear of failure that comes from a more top-down organization—was a tremendous boost to my creative confidence. And those early work experiences continue to inform my leadership in design, a career that has been endlessly rewarding.

What life lessons did you learn from your first job?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)