Your Best Career Path: Tiger Woods or Thomas Edison

I am not a golfer, but I know that Tiger Woods started playing the game as a toddler with his father as his coach.  Malcolm Gladwell capturedhis career in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, to support the premise thattrue mastery requires 10,000 hoursof practice. The importance of extended dedication to specializationwas bolstered by references to Bill Gates, the Beatles, and Robert Oppenheimer.  The take-away was that excellence sprang from a prolonged and specialized dedication.

David Epstein’s book Range:  Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized Worldcounters that premise.  He proposes diverse experience and a broad knowledgebase produce excellence.  He supports this with the careers of Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Winston Churchill, all of whom leverage multiple knowledge and interests into stellar careers. Current examples include new medical devices that sprang from merging engineering and medicine just as fusing mathematics and the stock market generated new trading algorithms.

These books raise serious questions for coaches:

  • Is specialization essential to excellence or does it lead tonarrow thinking?
  • Does a generalist background yield a jack of all trades and a master of none?
  • Does the path to success depend on the environment, industry or organization?

Over my 30 years of experience, I have found that no one can offer a guaranteedcareer path.A one size fits all formula does not exist.  Career success for specialization appears in law enforcement, research, sports, medicine, engineering,technical vocations, and relatively stable industries.And at the same time, generalistsexcel in small businesses; strategy focused roles;dynamic industries;and creative endeavors.

Career planning requiresa broad lens.  It may be that lateral career moves are wiser than waiting for the next step up the linear career ladder, that following in the footsteps of former success stories may not be safe, that both specialization and generalist backgrounds offer rewards, and that switching career trajectories may not be terminal.

I think the message from both books is not to limit your options or ambitions.  The “right career” is one where you can take pride in your impact and continue to learn.

About Author:

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

 

Targeting What Matters When It Matters

Adopting a narrow or fixed perspective is both foolish and dangerous.  My MBA students frequently and fervently embrace a single answer, but in their rush to provide an answer they overlook key aspects and alternatives.   Experienced decision makers know to dig deeper to see all that they can to address what most important, rather than wasting resources on what appears promising or urgent. They know their role is to ask the right questions more than delivering an answer.

When we drive our cars, we do not rely exclusively on the view through the windshield.  We check the side and rear mirrors and this expanded awareness ensure our safety.  Relying on a single point of view, or past practice discounts alternate perspectives as immaterial or mistaken.  Such a laser-like focus equates to wearing blinders.  But the other extreme of trying to focus on everything equally produces confusion derailing achievement.

Not everything warrants immediate attention.  The urgent should not obscure the important. Decision makers must make the right call at the right time for the right results.

We can access mountains of data but extracting information, detecting patterns, and understanding the implications requires critical thinking and analysis.  Mining insights requires discipline rather than an advanced degree, an elevated IQ, or a lofty title.  Critical and situational analysis is not rocket science, and it is not bestowed on just a few of us.   What is needed is to develop the ability to ask questions and gauge current conditions before jumping to conclusions.

Decision makers at all levels must effectively scan their environment, extract key insights, discover alternatives, evaluate risk and target key issues.  And that cannot be done relying on our memory. Most of us have a working memory (the number of things we can pay attention to and manipulate at one time) of only three or four items at a time (https://www.livescience.com/2493-mind-limit-4.html).  Therefore, we must train decision makers to collect and gauge the glut of information in a systematic manner to avoid blind spots.

If we fail to see all that there is to see, we pay a high price.  Consider Tide PODS.  Procter & Gamble launched one of their most innovative products in 2012. The brightly colored packets have captured one-fifth of the laundry detergent market by 2018. Yet, that success has to be balanced with eight deaths and over 9,000 poisonings. Could that have been foreseen?  Many would argue that the risk could have been identified since young children are attracted to vivid colors and shapes that they can hold.  A risk assessment would have identified it as probably and severe.

Likewise, Boeing could have anticipated software problem with their flight-control system.  How do we know this?  Boeing offered their customers, at an additional cost, a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system enhancement to override potential malfunction in an angle of attack sensor. Given that 737 Max 8 cost over $100 million and the fallout from a failure, the decision to charge extra for the additional software was a major red flag demanding attention.   That short-sighted decision combined with a reduced amount of pilot training combined to increase risk and cost the firm approximately one billion dollars. Tide PODS and the 737 Max 8 had foreseeable and overlooked dangers.

Decision makers need to focus on asking questions to know what to do and when to do it based on current relevant information.  What questions are you asking to guarantee that your team can target critical issues?

“Targeting What Matters When It Matters” was originally published on 25 April 2019 in BIZCATALYST 360°.

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

Coaching Others to Get Things Right

“Reading this brilliant book was both a pleasure and a gift. Situational Mindsets has not only helped me to analyze my own leadership tendencies and skills, but it caused me to take notice of the changes I need to make within my own organization to gain a competitive advantage in today’s world.”

David M.R. Covey, CEO of SMCOV, Coauthor of Trap Tales