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What to do next: the most important decision in your career

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This is another plug for Seth Godin’s blog –
Seth has new tidbits of wisdom almsot every day.

Here is what he wrote a few days ago

What to do next
This is the most important decision in your career (or even your day).

It didn’t used to be. What next used to be a question answered by your boss or your clients.

With so many opportunities and so many constraints, successfully picking what to do next is your moment of highest leverage. It deserves more time and attention than most people give it.

If you’re not willing to face the abyss of choice, you will almost certainly not spend enough time dancing with opportunity.

When I read this post I thought about the graphic shown above.  The graphic shows the proportion of creativity/intuition vs deterministic activity for one model of the product development life-cycle. 

On the left hand side, the activity is to imagine a new thing that does not currently exist.  For some people, ideas naturally occur to them.  In fact, for some people (read) they can’t stop new ideas from entering their heads. 

On the right side is production.  Production is rote repetition – no creativity is needed, nor is any creativity desired.  In fact, in formalized processes deviating from the process, established by others, is punished.  To the farther right, not on the diagram, is product service and support.  Product support and service is generally scripted and highly deterministic.

So there are millions of people out of work.  What is amazing is the number of people who are in a sort of “wait state”.  They are waiting for someone to give them a job.  Why?  What are the other choices not considered?

To Seth’s point above, it’s about opportunity and choice.  Some folks constrain their choice.  They think they are dependent on someone else to give them a job.  Why?  What about the entrepreneurial adventure?  With the spate of reality TV shows such as Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Storage Wars, and all the rest don’t people get the idea that one can make their own opportunity without waiting for the intervention of someone else to give them a job?

My guess is that those people who are on the right side of the graphic above are those who will be out of work the longest.  To Seth’s point, for the people on the right of the graphic,  “What to do next”, is something that may have always been answered by someone else.  That is, those who have had a job with a high level of determinism have been preconditioned to wait for someone else to tell them what to do.  “What to do next” is defined by the process or the manual.  But, when these folks are out of a job, there is no formal process that will lead to a deterministic success.  There is no boss to tell them what to do next.  So, they wait.

I was fortunate to be part of the .com frenzy working for an ebusiness incubator company.  The company was filled with all left-side graphic people.  They were fearless.  Despite the fact that the .com era went bust the majority of people who were in the vanguard of this era in business always had a plan on what to do next.  They were conditioned to think in this way in their career because of the nature of their work.

Where you come from – your job – has a big effect on “What to do next” when you are out of a job.  If you are a right-side graphic person you probably wait for someone else to bail you out. But think again.  Take Seth’s advice.  “Face the abyss of choice” but with the full choice of opportunity.  If you came from a job that was near the right side of the graphic above then move to the left.  Imagine something that does not yet exist – there is your opportunity.  Face the abyss of choice that you may have never before faced.

As an aside…

How many companies or organizations do you know that are waiting for the customer or the market to tell them what to do next?  What is the level of creative people in these organizations?  What are the limits of what they can imagine? 

Those companies and organizations that can not imagine a future often fall into a cycle of repetition.  Lacking a compelling vision of the future they simply repeat the past ad infinitum until they go out of business or become irrelevant.  Are you a leader, or a follower, or do you just stand in one place?  Block Buster?  Borders Books?  Travel Agencies?  Record stores?  Did you know you needed an Apple iPad before you saw it? 

Are good ideas enough?  No.  Some good ideas fail in execution.  The Apple iPod was not the first mp3 player.  The level of success of an organization is determined by the right balance of creative people plus those who can execute against the dynamics of a particular industry.

Companies and organizations are simply made up of people and their ability to answer the question, “What  to do next”.  As Seth says, “This is the most important decision in your career”.  This applies to individuals and organizations equally.


Written by frrl

October 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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