Take an active, hands-on role
To effectively direct your career, you don’t want to always trust “the universe” to provide an invisible hand that guides you. Yes, your boss may love your work and give you a boost when you need it, but what happens if that boss moves, transfers, or retires? Then you have to prove yourself all over again.
To maximize your professional development, you need to plan for the next phase of your career. I like to think of career development as a double funnel, because it provides a useful model. The idea behind the double-funnel is that there are a lot of different paths into a profession and, once you have a few years of experience, there are opportunities to continually re-invent your career.
This model holds true whether you are a graphic designer, web developer, technical writer, engineer, etc.
Consider the graphic below
On the left, the funnel points in, showing there are lots of different paths into a career. I’ll use a library career as the example. Put three librarians in a room and you might have three different paths into the profession: a volunteer, a teacher, or literary agent, for example, could each become a professional librarian.
When you launch your career at the junior level, you’re in the pipeline and can reasonably expect to keep moving through the pipeline by taking on additional responsibility. There is a clear, discernible progression from Librarian I to Librarian II and III. Life is good. Early on, you are developing your substantive expertise, learning the ropes, and building your organizational muscle. You don’t have time for a lot of career angst as you are getting a grasp of how the levers and pulleys of your profession work.
The good news is that after you’ve been employed in this progression for some time, you’ll have a deep understanding of the technical components of your job. You’ll understand how to be effective in your organization, and you’ll invariably have some wins under your belt. Eventually though, you’ll get a little restless, and anxious to move into new challenges. Remember how alive you felt when you were learning things every day and really pushed yourself?
When you reach the middle of the pipeline, you’ll begin to see additional challenges that you could take on, with some additional effort. At the middle of the pipeline illustration, you’ll see three key words: training, school, or volunteer. These are the three classic ways to get the credentials you’ll need to emerge on the right side of the funnel into your new position. If you start early, you can make the change happen.
For example, do you need an MBA to become a manager in your organization? Go back to school and earn that degree. Need leadership experience? You could become active in in your professional organization and gain valuable networking and leadership expertise that way. Or, you could vacuum up every management training opportunity at your workplace. Personally, I took the route of volunteering in SLA and have benefited with a much wider perspective of my profession.
Maybe you want to be an entrepreneur? While you are in the pipeline, reach out for the networking, training, or education that would steer you there. Perhaps a mentor could help you pick the courses you need, or steer you to different experts that can help. You’ll definitely want to talk to the Small Business Administration.
Now, because of your vision and focus, you’ve graduated to the right side of the pipeline as a manager, director, business analyst, project manager, specialist, etc.
A new funnel
The power of the double-funnel model (patent pending!) is that you will find that you’ve graduated to the left side of another pipeline–that is that you are at the inception of another progression. And now you know what to do – dig in, learn the ropes, and expand your network!
Like most SLA members who have a master’s degree, I figure I’ve got enough of a formal education, and I’ve taught, served as a guest-lecturer, and presented regularly over the past few years. But, because sustainability is so pertinent to everything we do now, I felt a need to be a part of the solution. So, I found myself in the role of student again, and it was exhilirating.
I am surprisingly pleased with myself for completing my Sustainable Enterprise Certificate from Willamette University this spring. The class was an eye-opener, as I thought content would focus on how to interpret some esoteric sustainability index. Instead we looked at system dynamics, leverage points, biomimicry, and the nature of social collaboration—really big ideas—that can produce shifts in people’s thinking about “what is sustainable?” The class literally changed my mind.
One of the big “aha’s” for me was an article on “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” by Donella Meadows which opens with:
Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in “leverage points.” These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big shifts in everything.
It’s a great concept, with a surprising history. If you think about it, isn’t a leverage point kind of the same thing as a magic spell or a secret passage way? Only instead of the missing ingredient for a powerful incantation, these leverage points offer access to positive change.
The highest leverage points change the goals, mindsets, and paradigms of a system to enable a new vision. The lowest leverage points deal with subsidies and buffers, but they rarely change the underlying behavior.
For example, we learned that when you want to facilitate change, look for the places where you can intervene in a system and foresee that your intervention will not only have a ripple effect, the change will be in the right direction. Leverage points can be counterintuitive, so use caution.
As an information professional who researches, organizes and disseminates information, I was not surprised to see that the structure of information flows, that is, who does and does not have access to information, is a fairly high leverage point. As they say, “knowledge is power,” so adding information to a system can be a powerful intervention.
How do you use leverage points to change a system at the highest levels? Meadows advocates that you follow this advice:
You keep pointing out the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you keep speaking louder and with assurance from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.
In our class, we learned how these tools could lead to a more sustainable economic, social and environmental system. But in the back of my mind, I kept coming back to the goals of SLA, and my new role as president-elect. What kind of leverage points could we uncover to facilitate a new, FUTURE READY state? What other sustainability lessons could I apply to move us toward being essential in the new knowledge economy?
I’ll be mulling this over for the next few weeks as I completely internalize my new sustainability certificate. I hope you have some answers, too.
1 : the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2 : an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
In anticipation of a presentation I will be giving, I talked with Kim Dority about the essential ingredients for a successful information professional. Without hesitation, she said “resilience.”
I nodded to myself and added it to my PowerPoint presentation. But since then, I’ve been thinking: what does resilience really mean? It could mean that, like a punching clown, when you get knocked down, you have the wherewithal to get back up again. Certainly, this is a good trait as it takes character to “get back in the race”, but when you are down, you know there’s got to be a better way.
Last week I heard a sustainable energy engineer talk about “building resilience into a system.” He was saying that rather than optimizing a system, you could increase strength and increase the possibility of success through building alternative pathways. Alternative pathways to success –now that is very relevant to the information professional right now.
So, I asked Kim for a little more insight on her version of resilience, and here’s her take on it:
“The ability to “get back up” is a part of the definition of resiliency, and especially speaks to issues of character and determination and confidence. But I also think that an ability and willingness to learn from our experiences, good and bad, is what turns the “getting back up” into making forward progress toward wisdom, and greater success, however one defines it.”
Resiliency to Kim means:
- Ability to get back up when life knocks you for a face-plant
- Ability to accept setbacks as a natural and welcome part of growth, rather than as a sign of failure – it means you’ve got the courage to try new things, which is requisite to achieving anything in your life
- Ability to move beyond comfort zones in order to respond to new opportunities
- Ability to manage our usual reaction to change – i.e., fear or defensiveness – and instead embrace the adventure
- Ability to see obstacles as momentary delays, for which you will seek alternative solutions. The engineer’s “alternative pathways,” are an on-target analogy
Kim continued with a good metaphor: body surfing, which has passive and active components. “I liken resiliency to body surfing, where your goal is to use the energy of the wave to achieve your goal. Everything I need to know I learned bodysurfing in Southern California…
- Position for opportunity
- Paddle like crazy
- Enjoy the ride, but know it will end
- Don’t take the sand in your suit personally
- Know that a new wave is always on the way
That’s kind of how I think about resiliency! I think its critical issue for information pros!”
Earlier this week I attended a presentation by Roger Martin, the author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. There is a great article about the book in Businessweek as it was one of their top recommentations for 2009.
The event was held at the new, and very cosmopolitan Ziba Design building on Ninth and Northrop in Portland. The crowd was large, hip, and enthusiastic.
As his thesis, Martin poses this question: “Why aren’t companies more innovative, especially since innovation is such a competitive advantage?” He investigated the obvious answers–that companies like what they already have or that they don’t have the resources–and he found they were not true. Companies really do want to be innovative.
Martin then outlined three ways that people think. The first is analytical thinking which looks at data from the past to predict the future. Its goal is a reliable outcome, but the limitation is that when you are looking to innovate you cannot use inductive or deductive reasoning to prove something new. In fact, Martin goes so far as to say “prove it” is the enemy of innovation.
Another way that people think is intuitive thinking, which has the goal of creating “what might be.” Its purpose is to know without explicit reasoning. This method of thinking has 100% validity, he said, because it lacks parameters.
The combination of both approaches is called abductive thinking, and its purpose is to integrate the past and future, and to combine reliability and validity. The intersection of analytical and intuitive thinking is where innovation occurs.
He argued that corporate life is dominated by analytical thinking, and that it has been pushed so far that it is counterproductive. He gave suggestions for intuitive thinkers to understand and empathize with analytical thinkers. He also challenged analytical thinkers to share reasoning and data, but not conclusions with intuitive thinkers.
If you change structure and process, then culture shifts occur. Cultural shifts lead to innovation.
As SLA looks to become Future Ready and posits “what might be,” we need use analytical and intuitive thinking to engender new processes and structures to support our members.
What’s your dominant way of thinking? Analytical, intuitive or abductive?
Last night, the uniquely Portland bookstore “Powell’s City of Books” hosted author Daniel Pink, an engaging speaker and author of A Whole New Mind, Free Agent Nation, and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.
I’d gained some real insight from Pink’s previous books and already purchased Drive—as the title is just so darn compelling. I’d also heard positive reports about this book from Jeff de Cagna at Principled Innovation.
So, what is it that DRIVES us? Of course, there are our biological drives: food, shelter, and finding a mate. And there are extrinsic drivers around rewards, such as our desire to obtain good things and avoid punishment—the carrot and stick.
But there are other intrinsic motivators and that’s really what this book is about. Yes, we need a paycheck, but we engage in work for a myriad of other reasons—because it’s interesting, to contribute to serving a larger purpose, and to engage in a community.
In engaging employees, most business models stop at the extrinsic carrot and stick rewards. But, Pink says, this model works well only in a narrow range of circumstances, when work is simple and mechanical. It is not effective when creative solutions are needed. Humans have a mix of motives and, after a saturation point, cannot be manipulated to increase their productivity with more carrot and less stick.
In fact, Pink’s research found that when work requires higher level cognitive skills, higher rewards and punishments actually lead to worse performance. (Now you see why the subtitle of the book is “The surprising truth about what motivates us.”) When a problem does not have a clear direct answer, extrinsic rewards are not effective. Once you pay people “enough,” they want to engage by thinking about the work, not the reward.
Pink describes three intrinsic drives that motivate us: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Autonomy is the drive to be self-directed. Many business models require people to comply, but autonomy looks instead at engagement. For example, call centers typically time employee calls, monitor all employee actions, and put workers in “hamster cage-like, soul-hollowing settings.” As a result, turnover can be as high as 100%. In contrast, the shoe company Zappos implemented a different model. They give call center employees two weeks training that concludes with an offer of $2000 if the newly minted employee wants to quit. Interesting! For those that stay, which is the vast majority, their instructions are simple: “You know what to do; when customers call in, do it.” So the operators are free to solve the customer’s problem in the most appropriate way—which increased customer satisfaction. In fact, Zappos received customer service ratings equal to the Ritz-Carlton.
Turning to mastery, Pink stated that as engagement is falling off at work, there is a rise in volunteering. People want to contribute. Open source software such as Linux, Apache, and Wikipedia are salient examples of this trend. People need interesting, challenging problems and will commit time and effort towards fulfilling this need.
How can a company engage our drive to purpose? Tom’s Shoes provides a relevant example as they give a way a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you buy. By doing this, they attract customers who feel good about giving and turn their customers into benefactors. To address purpose effectively, business models need to combine profit and purpose. People are not horses – we have the drive to make an impact on the world and a need to contribute.
Go read the book! Then, let’s talk a bit more about intrinsic rewards.