Friday, September 11, 2015

Does study of 150 top achievers help me achieve my career goals?

Recently, I read a very interesting work done by Linked in team. They culled out the list of 150 top achievers out of some 380 million network of Linked in profiles. The list describes the people who are doing some wonderful work. The work listed by the people is indeed inspiring.  But does this alone help us in achieving our goals in our careers? 

The unfortunate but realistic answer is NO. Any coach will tell you that each of us is unique. The path of these 150 work-achievers is unique ( like us). Their backgrounds are dissimilar. The challenges faced in their lives are 'not same' as us. Infact, some of the challenges may not be even a small hurdle for you. Neither are their blind spots same like yours. So knowing the patterns of their work-achievement is not enough.

If we wish to 'learn' from their career achievements, though, then we must do something more. We must have our own explicit 'framework' to guide our actions in our lives. We need a framework because we must take actions 'today' that will help us achieve results in a distant future. We need to ensure that actions today are consistent with actions taken tomorrow without committing ourselves too early.We need a framework because we must tie our personal life (values) with work-life achievement. We need a framework so that we can focus long enough to produce sustained 'results', not one-time results.

More importantly, an explicit 'framework' of sustained achievement helps us learn from other's achievements. That is the real benefit of a framework. With a framework, we can meaningfully compare our actions with others. By asking intelligent questions to these 150 achievers, based on some similarity that is relevant to our career, we can get help that we need. The similarity could be the path of achievement, background of education, a blind spot that we share or even similarity of values.The learning from these 150 achievers may be 'small', but very useful.  

To learn from other achievers' work-achievement, though, we must have an explicit framework of sustained work-achievement ( let us call it career framework) that should satisfy at least four conditions: 

1. Our explicit framework should explain the 'confusing' varieties that we observe in achievers: We observe different achievers. Some are rich, some poor. Some are educated, some uneducated. Some achieve at early age, some achieve at later age. Some have high IQ, some barely scratch through. These achievers also have different personality traits. Some are introvert, some extrovert. Some are givers, some takers. Some are passionate, some are happy-go lucky. Some are lucky, some are less lucky. 

The framework should be able to explain the work-achievement of these various individuals who have 'utilised' their background and personality traits ( even if it looked negative) in negotiating the hurdles in their career. For example, our explicit framework should help us understand the importance of luck in achievement. Most of the currently available frameworks, in books or in talks, instead advocate changing oneself, for instance, from becoming introvert to extrovert, or becoming giver to taker and so on. Some even invoke faith and claim that 'If one wants something intensely, Universe makes it happen for you'.  

2. Our framework should help us derive 'strategic options' that suit our situation: The biggest problem in implementing any 'suggestion or idea' is its applicability to a specific individual given the situation he is facing. For instance, my strategic options to get a promotion in my job are different than your options in your job. Morever, my ability to utilise those options may be more limited than yours, because of my specific personality trait, say humility. 

The framework should offer me a method to generate all the possible options so that I can chose the one that suits me the most. Most of the explicit frameworks in career achievement, instead, are based on one dimensional rules such as "Work hard and you will achieve anything' or " If you fail many times, you will achieve success". We know what results we want to achieve, but we do not know 'how to achieve them'

3. Our framework should adhere to the basic principles of achievement: We all wish to produce 'results' in our work. But only a 'System' ( of interacting people, resources, practices and goals) produces 'results'. In other words, my ability to produce 'results' depends on the Systems state of readiness as much as on my effort to influence the 'system'. Morever, results can produce 'monetary' benefits only when certain conditions of market , related to work, are satisfied. That is why, I may produce extraordinary result by performing at the best, but may have to wait for the 'system' to be ready for monetisation.

In other words, I should be able to assess a situation and then chose to have the courage to 'change the situation' if the timing is right' or chose to 'accept the situation as it is' if the timing is not right. Current frameworks of work achievement  which are based on Willpower only advocate the approach of 'changing the situation' irrespective of whether the time is right or not. Instead, I need a framework to help me choose an appropriate approach in a given situation. 

4. Our career framework ( of sustained work achievement) should be simple to implement without simplifying the actual problem:
On the one hand, any framework should be complex enough to accommodate different backgrounds, work paths ( domains) and type of achievements ( individual versus team oriented). It should also be holistic because I am not just a rational person, but I am also an emotional person. I must achieve enough in work-life, but I must also have good relationships.

All the actions and strategies to achieve our work goals should address all the above complexity. But a normal person cannot be expected to 'remember' all these inter-relationships to take his career actions. It is like expecting a person to understand the science of medicine to take actions to prevent health problems. In other words, the framework should be simple enough for a normal layman to implement, but it should not simplify the problems of career complexity.

We need a framework which is simple enough, but at the same time, should be robust enough to deal with underlying complexity of work-related actions and results. The complexity should be hidden, not ignored.


Einstein said "Make everything as simple as possible, but not too simple". Traditional rules of sustained achievement are one-dimensional and simple.

For instance, they advocate that If you have enough willpower you can achieve anything; Or If you persist long enough, success will knock at your door; Or If your intentions are honest, Universe will conspire to make it happen; Or If you follow 10 rules of success, you will achieve anything in life; Or If you develop emotional intelligence, you will have satisfied relationships; Or If you trust others, others will trust you; Or If have spiritual outlook, you will always be helped. And worse still, we treat these Rules as 'final gospel'. So we unwittingly pick them in making our own career framework. And that is why they have stopped us in helping achieve anything meaningful.

It is time we respect the complex reality of sustained work-achievement. Any achiever will tell you that sustained achievement is not about seeking equilibrium, because achievement is both growing and shrinking. That a small initial advantage ( as well as disadvantage) in the work-path makes a 'big impact' on achievement and locks you in for years ( yes, some individuals also get locked in past achievement) until you make a special kind of effort to extricate from it. We 'chose' to do tasks not just rationally, but also because we are forced by others expectations. We are not just rational and calculative as experts tell us, but we are also unpredictable , imperfect and inefficient.

And like untended ecosystems such as garden, if we do not 'tend' our career-actions consciously, we face the consequences of it sooner or later.

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