More than most other cultures, personal and organizational success are immensely important to Americans (You can toss the Chinese in with the Americans). Celebrity status, personal book sales, organizational profit and individual power and finances are inevitably touted—and by a lot more than the media. So I was amused by research focusing on theTiger Mother concluding that the theory of why people thrive is “finally rigorously debunked.
Chua and Rubenfeld argued that three traits predicted personal success. . .
One of my very bright young friends in his early thirties occasionally worries that he's let too much time go by and that he should have started his own company several years ago. It's a very prevalent idea, but it's pure myth. So what is the average age of the typical entrepreneur when he/she starts the business?
Debunking the entrepreneurial myth. With all the hype about successful 20-somethings, you’d think that they had entrepreneurialism all sewed up. Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, Paul Allen and Bill Gates with Microsoft, as well as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak with Apple are often touted as typical entrepreneurs. And that once you break 30. . .
With all the hype about successful 20-somethings, you’d
think that they had entrepreneurialism all sewed up. Mark Zuckerberg with
Facebook, Paul Allen and Bill Gates with Microsoft, as well as Steve Jobs and
Steve Wozniak with Apple are often touted as typical entrepreneurs. And that
once you break 30, it’s all over for you. Sorry, but that’s not at all the case—and
those innovators are not the typical.
based on big data, is proven to be a highly accurate—and certainly unique—means
for catching a car thief: quantify and tabulate a car owner’s posterior.
Since Aristotle there have many efforts to come up with
new ways to understand and predict human behavior. But over just the past few
centuries, we’ve begun to “mathematize” the subjective. We’ve tried to predict human
behavior by means of (little) data.
corporate strategies and needs throughout the past 12 years, sort through the
business-related research and anecdotal material, engage executives and
entry-level employees, study the best journals and books, engage the top
consulting firms and storied business school faculty and you’ll find a
phenomenal consensus on the needed competencies for career success. Though
these competencies are oriented to parents and college students, they also
provide a relevant perspective on learning and career pathing for those already
in the workforce.
Reduced to the
most basic elements, here’s the list of key competencies:
technology background or related expertise in the STEM (science, technology,
engineering and math) majors. You want to major in a liberal arts program
outside those technologies? Excellent, but make sure you get four to six STEM
courses. (Major in sociology, but add statistics, computer science, etc. Or,
major in English lit, dance, German studies, or archaeology, but pick up some
STEM background along the way.)
The actual value of the STEM
competencies is that they provide the primary means for innovation for both
business as well as the nation. They are our ultimate competitive advantage in
the global marketplace. In short, without a robust STEM workforce, we will
become less competitive in the global economy. However, without the broadly
educated liberal arts grads, including those with liberal arts STEM majors—not
mere technicians--we lose much of the creativity and intuition crucial in the
workplace where fuzzy issues and dense problems, clashes of ideas and
deep-seated ambiguities are the status quo.
thinking and problem solving. If the faculty in your college major is
half-way decent, the subtext, often unstated, is that your major discipline
works on the basis of a specific set of cognitive models. My undergrad history
major forced me to think big picture, look closely at data and analyze
potential causes underlying historical events. Applied to business, I found
myself with superb analytical, tactical, cause-effect and strategic
competencies. Translated into business categories, here is what one English
major learned. In the global marketplace, however, these are merely
foundational competencies. You’re going to have to constantly build upon thinking
skills. That will include the ability to evaluate evidence, to see patterns in
recurring problems, to draw adequate inferences and conclusions, to think
metacognitively and to use relevant vocabulary.
3. Written and oral communication. The
demand for communication competencies in the 21st century profoundly
outpaces that of the last century. It’s not merely the multi-lingual nature of
a diverse global world or the emphasis upon service economies and face-to-face
relations. At bottom it’s the flattened hierarchies with individual responsibilities
for every person. Thus, success now requires the ability to use communication
to bridge gaps between interdependent groups, to build and use networking
intelligence, manage relationships, and create a motivational environment that
will inspire the cooperation and contribution of others.
In this new economy, the
majority of more experienced, older workers struggle to communicate
effectively. But Gen-Yers seem to have special needs at this point. As a
warning, Arthur Levine, former president of the Columbia Teacher’s College and
now president of The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, puts it this way: This generation is not very good at
face-to-face relationships. The image that comes to mind is two students,
sitting in the room they share, angrily texting each other, but not talking.
They all want to have intimate relationships, they want to get married and have
kids, but that’s hard to do if you don’t know how to talk with another person.
which includes the abilities to respond to and manage change, and know how to learn.
Few companies have a career ladder and few careers are linear. Instead,
employees will need to adapt to a market which is a dynamic, evolving system in
which the further you try to assess the future, the more difficult it is to
predict the outcomes. At its heart, adaptability is about the skills of change.
It implies the ability to get from where you are now to where you want to go--and
along the way, deal competently with the miserable middle between now and then.
It also implies focus, constant learning and political smarts.
Adaptability is built upon the
recognition that our world never stays the same, that dynamic change, not
stability and permanence, is constant. Adaptable people understand that experience
and work are chaotic, fragmentary, deviate from cherished values and is given
to imponderable ambiguity. Adaptation, itself, comes out of encounters with
novelty that may seem chaotic. In trying to adapt, we often have to deviate
from cherished values, behave in ways that we’ve barely glimpsed and seize on
clues that are merely fragmentary.
Most people tend to think of creativity as beautiful designs such as great art,
architectural masterpieces or the Apple iPad. The fact of the matter is that
though business always needs creative masterpieces, business needs far more
creativity and innovation in mobilizing talent, allocating resources,
developing processes and building strategies.
But the most important fact
about creativity is that at its heart it is a highly collaborative
enterprise, not the lone genius in his/her workroom. The unifying idea
about creativity, which debunks a mile-high stack of creativity myths, is that
even seemingly solitary artistic pursuits involve improvisation, collaboration
and communication. The surprising reminder for many is that nothing is
perceived to be creative unless people can communicate that insight to others.
One of the more fascinating insights I gained from consulting at 3M, one of
America’s greatest creative firms, is that a creative team often searches for
others who can communicate the value of their creation. Otherwise, their work
is dead in the water. Surprisingly, the keys to creativity are going to be
collaboration and communication, making this competency available to anybody
who’s willing. Once more: the eccentric, lone genius is the exception, not the
The first thing most think about this subject is of a business person who
builds a business from scratch. That’s merely one very minor reflection of an entrepreneurial,
adventuresome spirit. A more generic perspective of entrepreneurialism includes
the ability to take initiative and risks in order to put new ideas into play.
In short, it’s finding useful and/or profitable solutions to problems.
Furthermore, in today’s world the entrepreneurial person regularly rebuilds his
job and career in order to adapt to business needs or change jobs.
Entrepreneurialism is tightly
related to creativity, especially to its communication side. A study by
Hargadon and Sutton showed that the entrepreneurial process was remarkably
similar across all companies. It included the ability to capture good ideas,
keep the ideas alive, imagine new uses for old ideas, and put promising
concepts to the test. One of the fascinating things we know about entrepreneurs
is that they are good “noticers.” The Wall Street Journal’s Shellenbarger,
for example, writes that entrepreneurs notice “unmet needs and ways to fulfill
What’s most obvious about this new competency set is that
a high school degree gets you nowhere, that a bachelor’s is merely foundational
and that success in the new economy will require constant learning and growth. Initially,
you might think the academic portion of these demands to be a bit much. I’ve
found that a typical liberal arts bachelor’s degree, requirements, major and
all, provides space for meeting these basic expectations. However you read this
blog, don’t miss the point that these competencies form the backdrop, indeed, the
new normal for career success. So, go on about the business of acquiring and
honing these skills, regardless of where you are in your career.
Since everyone and
his brother believe this dumb-ass question is both important and intelligent,
one of my missions in life is to put the lie to it. As a former university professor and long-time management consultant, I can’t emphasize enough
how limiting and actually harmful this question is. The notion of a linear
career relation between college and work is false from the get-go.
But first, a caveat. If you or your kid majored in sports
rather than academics, I recommend you skip this blog. I seriously doubt that
more than 5% of those who majored in sports, instead of viewing it as merely a
recreational outlet, do well in academics. And if you or your kid fits in the
sports major group and failed to develop academic tools, then go ahead and
major in a subject focused on gaining immediate entry to the current job
market. Of course, you’ll quickly learn that won’t provide much more than an
entry-level salary for most of your life. But them’s the choices.
question’s power Fortunately, just this year a thoughtful piece of
research by Daniel Lair and Stacey Wieland addressed that dumb ass
colloquialism, finding that though it is a near all-powerful ideology, it
understands neither work nor education. The research confirmed the
pervasiveness of the question--more than ever in today’s economy—and that it is
widely recognized by all students. On top of that, it is inevitably an
emotionally charged question—and nearly half the time negative, functioning as
a judgment about the choices a person is making about the relationship between
work and his or her education. As a consequence, students readily recognize
that their ability to answer the question is high-stakes and anxiety-producing.
They also know that it is about whether a major will provide merely a
sufficient or a substantial income. The obvious implication of the question that
the major a person chooses is tightly coupled with the selection of a job.
Wrong about work What’s clear from the research is that students and the
public ground their belief in a linear career model: this major, for example,
will make possible this career. The fact of the matter is that those implications
simply do not align with the realities of the global economy.
First, the shelf life of a linear, vocational degree is
no more than five years. Furthermore, there is no longer a social contract
between employer and employee, and neither expects that relationship long term.
That means that there’s a very high likelihood that what got you a job right
out of college will be completely obsolete within five years. On top of that,
people will be changing employers and careers many, many times over their lives.
To a surprising degree, those changes are becoming more and more true of even
the so-called permanent vocations in engineering, law and medicine. To quote
the researchers: The permanent view of
career that is perpetuated through the colloquial question, “What are you going
to do with that major?” conflicts with what students are likely to experience post
education The consequence of this wrongheaded ideology is that it
keeps students from approaching higher education in a way that will equip them
better for the long term. The ideology forces students and their parents to
focus on college education, narrowly, and solely from the job perspective. No
question that business loves this and emphasizes this approach. But the
business approach to college is like a stock market approach: it’s liable to be
valid no more than three or four quarters. And sadly, in my work with leading
executives around the country, I’ve experienced few who think about education
on a long-term basis, and outside the stock market box.
So, given that jobs, employers, careers and professions
are going to be changing many times in our lives, how should we look at
education? What should students really gain from a college education? The
answer is straightforward. While education plays a role in equipping the
student for career, students need to also wrestle with questions of how to live
a meaningful life. Specifically that includes questions about the roles they
will play in society, such as citizen, parent, partner, volunteer or community
So what’s an
intelligent student to do? Given the realities of our world, we need a holistic perspective
on the role of education and the recognition that the decision about what to
study and what to do with one’s life has no unique permanent answer. The
competencies that the best organizations are asking for are the same
competencies that students will need for all of life: creative thinking,
managing complex problems, making informed decisions, learning, adapting and
maintaining an open entrepreneurial, adventuresome relationship to life.
What a career edge implies for students is that they ought
to at least make space for a couple courses in technology, economics and communication--and
learn how to work social and organizational systems that are hierarchical and
authoritarian. In today’s world they’re liable to be creating their own jobs,
even inside the company, and viewing learning as a life-long process. That also
means that they will need the oral and written smarts to get around the
recruiter’s template when they set out for the next job. With that background
most any liberal arts major will work just fine. The current mayor of Chicago,
for example, holds an undergraduate liberal arts degree in dance from Sarah
In sum, the “What are you going to do with that major?” question is typically insulting, demeaning and stupid.
Lair, Daniel J. and Stacey M.B. Wieland, "What are you going to do with that major?" Colloquial Speech and the Meanings of Work and Education, Management Communication Quarterly, 26(3), 2012, 423-452.
Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is the classic reflection of the American career--linear and mechanistic. Bourne, like many business professionals, focuses on the choices and the actions available to achieve his objective. Driven by incentives and desires, he focuses on a single objective and takes the necessary actions to achieve that objective. Ten minutes into the movie you’ve got a pretty clear lay of the land and where it’s liable to be going. Laying out the sequences of the movie on a storyboard would be simple. It is a very traditional, linear plot.
In stark contrast, last week I went to see Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary. Both my movie storyboards and career models got waylaid. Badly.
The movie, a semi-autobiographical depiction of the early years of the life of Hunter Thompson—the famous journalist and novelist—got underway with Thompson’s alter ego Paul Kemp (played by Johnny Depp), coming to consciousness, having ravaged the minibar in a dark, trashy Puerto Rican hotel room, overlooking a glorious beach. It’s the 1950s, and his bleary disorientation is accentuated by the small plane that flies by with the banner, “Puerto Rico Welcomes Union Carbide.” Yep. Pave paradise with parking lots! Ugly Americans infest the bowling alley. Right wing capitalists plan vulgar resorts on the unspoiled army testing range at Vieques.
Aside from the enjoyable script, filled with absolutely hilarious, cynical, insolent patter, after the first twenty minutes, I was stymied. Where the hell is this going? The only objective in sight was that the young Kemp (Depp), newly arrived from New York, got a job at the San Juan Star, a newspaper edited by a lunatic. The movie quickly introduced a garrulous, frustrated news photographer and a brain-damaged crime writer that initiated him into a round of barhopping, alcohol-soused benders, and cockfighting that result in a trip to the slammer. At the end of the first thirty minutes, two things were obvious: I couldn’t storyboard the plot like a Bourne movie if I tried, and I was the only person laughing in an audience of about 50 people. But just one thing was clear about the plot: it was jumbled and chaotic, not linear.
Even the ending failed to tie the threads together. The newspaper collapsed, and Kemp (Depp) got out with his life still intact, though flawed and, I assume, made even more cynical by his experiences.
Initially, I thought, rather superficially, that it was a crappy way to begin a career. Still, the movie wouldn’t let go of me. The audience didn’t give evidence of liking it--but I couldn’t let go of it.
Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more I decided that rather than a crappy way to begin a career, it was a highly auspicious beginning for a brilliant career. The Rum Diary, in contrast to the Bourne trilogy, depicts human experience in all its warts: chaotic, fragmentary, deviating from cherished values and given to imponderable ambiguity. Thompson was a successful writer, at the least, because of his rich exposure to a variety of encounters and involvement with the discomforting unfamiliar.
Johnny Depp’s Rum Diary was a classic break with the past. In profound contrast to the calculated, linear life of choice, the sense of Rum Diary is its focus upon the vagaries of human experience. Like real human experience, the Diary is messy and filled with misadventures.
The 21st century is going to require competencies that are not easily derived from our incrementalist business schools and linear developed careers. Think about it. The key expertise for success in a globally volatile marketplace includes adaptability, exploration and entrepreneurialism.
Take adaptability as an example. Adaptation comes out of encounters with novelty that may seem chaotic. In trying to adapt, we often have to deviate from cherished values, behave in ways that we’ve barely glimpsed and seize on clues that are merely fragmentary. What better teacher than novel experiences?
It’s obvious today, that careers and work are experiencing a break with the past as significant as that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when parts of the world began the long process of industrialization. The twentieth century mindset ruled our careers. It was, as the Bourne movies revealed, a highly calculating, narrow, specialist’s view of career. And though I’d be the last person to reject that career model, I’m also very certain that, of itself, it’s inadequate for the demands of the 21st century.
It was Steve Jobs, of all people, that brilliant, painfully difficult and dysfunctional executive, who pointed to the same problem when discussing professionals in the technology industry.
A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
It’s this journey of experience that The Rum Dairy so eloquently points to. And it’s this very important career shift that businesspeople, desirous of a career future, had best pay attention to. When someone can’t adapt to changes, lacks creative insight, has difficulty resolving complex problems or making decisions, one important conclusion becomes obvious: he (or she) doesn’t have enough dots to connect.
This is a riff on a fantastically simplified, even out-of-touch article in the latest Fortune, entitled How to Make a Smart Lateral Move. It’s obvious, as the article admits, that moving straight up the hierarchical ladder is not as common anymore. The article suggested that that this is a new approach to careers from the past five years, that it was due in part to the economy and that the conventional wisdom is that it’s a dead end. Baloney!
The economy just escalated a 20 year old strategy. The IT and marketing people in my Contacts list knew from organizational flattening--by the end of the 1980s--that the most prevalent opportunities were not up, but lateral zig-zags between companies. Many of them managed their career on that basis way back then. Even Ibarra’s seminal book on career change, Working Identity, published in 2003, shows an intimate knowledge of lateral moves as the primary means for career change and success. For that matter, Doug Hall, wrote on the issue in the 1970s. And if you want to get fussy about it, Dante Aligheri demonstrated its power at the turn of the 13th century AD.
Still, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Lateral career moves offer terrific career opportunities. I suspect that the best opportunities in the future will be mostly lateral.
Certainly, as Fortune suggests, it’s true that many execs and ordinaries are willing to take jobs with similar titles and pay in exchange for little more than a shorter commute to work. According to a poll from Right Management, 84% of employees planned to look for new jobs in 2011, which is up from 60% the previous year. A lot of people are yelling, “get me out of this job.”
The writer, Jena McGregor, says that lateral moves may not always carry a stigma these days. Hmmm. She must have been interviewing dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists. The people I talk to view laterals as an astute move. Of course, as she suggests, you want to do your homework about the potential firm’s financials and the real responsibilities of the new job. I thought that was a given. Anyway, it’s still true.
But here are the real issues. The key question is not about leadership opportunity as much as it is about developmental opportunity. Leadership is just one issue among many. It's also an overworked buzzword, used to catch the attention of people who don’t understand the necessary development beyond “leadership” required for success in the New Economy. Jobs go obsolete within 3 to 5 years, and if there’s no opportunity for a new job with a 3 year tenure, it’s time to start looking—unless you want to become just another obsolete worker. Recognize also that a lateral in this environment may provide the best way to get out from under a crappy boss.
I’d want to know the potential for mentoring and coaching within the potential firm. Just how much of an orientation to learning will you find at the company? I’d also want to be sure that the firm is strongly oriented to developing its technology. Above all, I’d want to know how astute the firm is around the issues of social intelligence. In today’s world, you need your own technology as well as a growing amount of social intelligence if you’re to succeed.
Furthermore, as a Deloitte exec pointed out, a key issue in your move is assessing how many future choices a lateral move might provide. A final accurate comment from the article is the admonition to be certain you’re going to comfortable with the new culture. Cultures vary greatly. Not only do you want to make certain the new culture makes decisions on the basis of evidence, but also that’s it not too concrete. Many cultures represent a specific, narrow psychographic within their employees. 3M, for example is classic. If you don’t perceive reality through the lens of chemical engineering and R & D, you’re going to be out of pocket. My friends in classic marketing always struggle in that culture. In contrast, if a culture is highly entrepreneurial, nailing few other constants down, you’d best make certain you’re going to be happy with lots and lots of change. You’d be surprised at the difference in cultures within the same industry. Old Pillsbury was strongly oriented to change, restacking in the high-rise, remodeling and creating new groups with new objectives all the time. General Mills, in contrast, was not at all entrepreneurial—always sticking to the tried-and-true. As you look back in time and say that General Mills now owns Pillsbury. Yeah, but they bought Pillsbury precisely because of its entrepreneurial nature, replacing many of the General Mills execs with Pillsbury people. Technology companies can be shockingly different. Moving from Microsoft to FaceBook could be trauma for plenty of people who have difficulty with rapid change. “Nuff said about culture distinctions.
The pay and promotion issue is still another complex matter. It's astute to prioritize development opportunities first, then future choices second. Indeed, some in IT won't accept a two-year position that provides no learning. In a good economy, IT people won't accept more than six months on a job without development opportunities. These complexities play out in surprising ways. Because of the insistence upon development opportunities and future choice, pay and promotion become secondary issues. The consequence is that numerous employees willingly and wisely take a pay cut for future opportunities. Titles and promotions seem to have far less cachet than in the past. Others accept similar salaries, some opt for more money and no promotion. You'll also find that many from all the disciplines, not just IT, are looking not to the first lateral, but to the next two moves to make up for salary and even promotion needs. Lateral moves are for people who are thinking several years ahead. The zig-zag assumes a strategic role in career thinking. It's not just a one-shot deal.
In sum, for the bulk of the working population smart laterals may well be the wisest way to go. Don’t get caught up in the dead idea that your company is going to take care of you. You’re going to have to take care of your own career—or end up on the streets.
China is not much of a threat, says Lee Kwan Yew, in a conversation with Charlie Rose. According to Yew, the man who shaped Singapore during 31 years in power, the US is the only mover and shaker, the only real leader on the globe. Yew dissects China's real agendas with a scalpel. China is the second-largest economy, but she has no world-wide interests. Because of its history, the Chinese culture is notoriously self-centered. (We might be too, if we'd gone through all they've experienced.) Her interest is in herself, and so she concentrates on those areas where she needs oil and other resources. Yew believes that it will take China more than 20 years to become a technological power.
So what, according to Yew, do the Chinese need?
China needs the US market. It has a growing middle class, but the inequalities and poverty in China outside the coastal cities are profound. The social disparities are so significant that the politicians always worry about civil disorder and severe discontent.
China needs US technology. To a high degree American technology grows out of its entrepreneurial culture. It's well known that the Chinese culture is not entrepreneurial, but driven by state capitalism. Not a formula for adventuresome technologists.
China needs to have students go to the US. Without a backlog of US trained grads China will be cut off from information and technology.
Perhaps the better question is what the US should do. One thing for sure is that Washington should not cut off research support, one of the first moves of the new congress. Somebody needs to challenge that political idiocy whenever there are attempts to limit student support, university and research funding. That's not an issue of can't support the institutions, it's an issue of gutlessness and lack of strategy. I expect that of two-year wonders in the House of Representatives, but not of the Senate.
Many business leaders talk out of both sides of their mouth about taxes, but when it comes to supporting research most of them are not too upset over a shaking down. After all, business gets more tax subsidies than the population. I will never understand how the population stays so unaware of the tax advantages and subsidies government provides to business. I believe that business tax advantages have gotten far too large. The only remedy will be tax reform to remove the thousands of loopholes. The business tax loopholes are a far larger piece of the deficit problem than taxpayers realize.
So should the US be worried about China? Not especially.
This is basically an FYI post: I doubt that I could write an article on women and the pay/career issues conundrum without screwing up, getting accused of chauvinism or making irrelevant statements. So let me frame the issue with a bit of history, and then suggest a number of articles on the subject.
First, I am husband of a professional woman, and father of three daughters, all professionals. Although I grew up in a highly male, though not especially macho family, I recognized when my daughters were in grade school that women were getting the short end of the stick and that I needed to help them make wise career/mate choices. (The father/daughter stuff is very potent. My daughters more quickly tell me I'm screwing up than my wife. On numerous occasions, and to my obvious delight, they've told me to "buzz-off," and rightly so. I've also engaged in some of the most enjoyable conversations in life with my daughters.) My wife, who's in her seventies, has told me that growing up, she had three choices of profession: teaching, nursing or secretarial. After two summer stints as part-time assistant to the senior executive for General Motors Overseas (Opel cars, etc.) he offered her the position of his personal assistant, with a pool of a dozen assistants, but she chose to become a teacher. (She's a very exceptional woman.) After our first was born, her father offered to pay her way through law school, but she said no. (I learned much later that she thought I'd have been too intimidated. Aaaargh! No comment.)
It was obvious that for me to feel secure about our daughters' future they needed to go to the best schools and get a graduate degree. (That was more my agenda than my wife's, although she certainly was supportive.) All three daughters completed graduate school, and they've been highly successful. My wife and I both have happy smiles about that. We recognize that that was not possible for the majority of women of that generation, but we were given three daughters and that was our family objective. I should also say that over the years I've had the good fortune to consult to numerous women. I'm not certain why, but a number of my clients have been exceptionally capable females at the executive level. I am certain I gained as much from them as I gave. When the issue is women in the workplace, I should say that though I've been blessed to meet a number of very enlightened males, I also know an awful lot of dumb-ass ones from mid to executive levels from all the generations. I count two sons-in-law among the enlightened.
Both men and women of the younger generations should be aware of the current statistics (although some writers are pointing out that these are not really the important issues).
Pew research finds 26% of women out-earn their husbands.
More women than men are starting American companies.
Women earn 6 out of 10 bachelor's and master's degrees.
So, men and women of the younger generations, here are a set of articles on highly relevant women/workplace issues.