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On Inventing Your Job

I guess it's not such a new story that when my daughter's generation enter the workforce a far higher proportion of them will find themselves with the need (and also the means) to invent their own job. And given the pace of change that surrounds us, then to reinvent it, probably many times.

Perhaps Thomas Friedman is right when he says in this NYT Op-Ed that our education curricula is poorly equipping our kids in a world where an internet connection gives you access to near universal knowledge and what you know matters far less than what you do with what you know. And whilst basic knowledge is still important, one where the capacity to think critically, solve problems creatively, collaborate and bring new possibilities to life arguably becomes more important than academic knowledge.

As does motivation. Sir Ken Robinson has spoken more eloquently than anyone about how our education system seems uniquely designed to sap the creativity out of our young. Similarly, it can sometimes feel as though many of our workplaces are uniquely designed to sap the motivation out of people. I've always thought that when recruiting staff, direct experience is often overrated, and attitude and enthusiasm underrated. Not everyone has agreed with my take on that in the past, but it has never let me down.

In the late 90s I was working in a junior management position on a bunch of magazines. The internet was really starting to infiltrate everywhere but I thought we were missing a trick and I had a few ideas about stuff I thought we should be doing in our own small way. So I did some research, put a deck together, and went to talk to anyone that I could get in to see who had any power to do something about it. What I was talking about was completely out of my remit at the time but I just thought it was important so I did something about it. Two months later I was invited to interview for the job that would change my career, helping to launch the standalone internet-only area of the business (the quaintly named IPC Electric). I only found out later that one of those people who I'd presented to had mentioned me in passing to the director of the internet division. 

I tell this story because it's relevant to the chart above (taken from this deck from Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn) which makes the point about breakout opportunities in careers, and the importance of developing habits of behaviour that increase the likelihood that we'll find great career opportunities ("when you do something you stir the pot and introduce the possibility that seemingly random ideas, people, and places will collide and form new combinations and opportunities"). 

Too often, we look for what already exists instead of believing in ourselves to create the new. Joining IPC Electric was one of those leaps forward for me and it changed the course of my entire career. Leaving IPC over three years ago was another. Counterintuitively, like John Kay's Obiliquity, we often achieve our goals indirectly, through means and endeavours that initially seem unrelated to them. For my own daughters, my hope is that I can teach them enough self-believe that encourages them to stir the pot. This sadly compelling list of top career regrets sits as testament to how important that is.

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