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Friday, February 12, 2010

Is career building a mystery or a puzzle?

( Mystery versus Puzzle idea was made popular by Gladwell in his Enron's article)

Let us understand this distinction better. One can view traffic congestion problem, for instance, in a city as a mystery or a puzzle. If it is a puzzle, then one shall identify traffic patterns, build appropriate signaling system, negotiate traffic through one-way and two-way roads, and build flyovers where the four-way traffic is equally dense. If one views it as a mystery, then one shall view it as phenomenon of natural urbanisation in a country and therefore find ways to 'manage' the increasing intake of rural population, determine 'threshold' level of a city that can assimilate a specific size of population at a particular rate, decide ways of reducing population intake into traffic intake ( say by forcing people to use public vehicles), and then arrive at an effective strategy of reducing urban congestion.

As you will observe, mystery solving involves making several judgments, taking many ' intuitive calls' on the unfolding of future, and making murkier decisions based on inadequate data. Puzzle solving on the other hand means getting more and more data, finding better way of getting data, and using algorithms to find the right decision. Puzzle typically has one conclusion, Mystery has many. If puzzle is solved wrongly, it is easy to find a culprit. In Mystery is solved wrongly, it is not possible to blame any one. So what do individuals do when forced with this choice. Does it take any Prophet to predict that they will naturally choose puzzle-solving paradigm?

The same has happened with Career-building. Solving a puzzle of career building is far more easier than solving the mystery of career building. We therefore find our career goals, determine the gaps to reach the goals, and fill those gaps. Naturally a puzzle can be solved in many ways. So some others solve it by building the right skills and traits that are universally right, such as thinking positively. They ignore the finding that all successful people do not have the right skills/traits. Based on the cricketing skills, who would have chosen Virendra Sehwag in a cricketing team? And that too in a national cricketing team?

Which paradigm do you chose to build your career? Unfortunately, the choice is not in our hand. Open-ended problems, like traffic congestion or career building, cannot be solved by using a puzzle paradigm. If you solve them like a puzzle, the solution is always inadequate, often a wrong one, and leads to many other unintended harmful consequences. In the problem of traffic congestion, we face the impact of wrong solution every day and conveniently ignore its consequences. In the problem of career building, we face the impact of wrong solution directly in our lives and pay for the unintended consequences every day.

The real question therefore is how to adopt mystery paradigm to build your career. If we agree on the question, then we are on the same table, and can proceed to find answers to the question.

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