career development

Don't Plan Your Career, Lay Out Scenarios Instead

I won't bury the lede on this one; don't plan your career, a better approach is to develop a few scenarios of where you believe your industry is going and acquire the knowledge and skills that will be required to thrive in these scenarios. I'll explain how to do this.

I wrote a few articles in 2015 (OK, a lot) and the ones that got the most views/responses were focused on the future of an industry or company. Unsurprisingly, I got questioned on my ability to predict the future, people disagreed in a few cases. That's fine. My response was the same every time; I'm not actually predicting the future, I'm just laying out strategic scenarios. Second most recurring question was why I felt comfortable sharing my views on where the future lies for industries that I know little about? My response; it's easy when you apply systems thinking because one should be wary of folk who predict the future with certainty.

It’s all about systems thinking. Looking at the industry through the lens of some immutable systems truths and not placing too much weight on the short term beyond where we are in market cycles. It’s the crux of my ebook as I apply it to two industries (education and energy). 

Understanding the fundamental drivers and where your industry is going will enable you acquire the skills you need to thrive in your industry whatever the outcome of your  situation with your current company or with the company itself. It's a simple process

  1. Read and gather information on the game changing technologies within and outside your industry.
  2. Apply some Systems Thinking to the information you've gathered (I give some examples below)
  3. Lay out 2-3 scenarios for where things might go
  4. Research to gain better understanding of what skills you need to acquire  to play a leadership role in the scenarios you've laid out (#SkillsGap)
  5. Go about acquiring those skills.
  6. Stay learning

Systems Thinking Concepts to Apply for Scenario building

In the Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge advocates for the value of learning organizations. The same learning mentality applies in your acquisition of knowledge about technological advancements and the skills that will be required. Some things will always hold true, regardless of whether some of the technological advances come to be, because some systems concepts (I borrow from Donella Meadows here) will always be true. Here a few that you can use to develop your scenarios

  • Honor, respect and distribute information: the business model for some industries (e.g. insurance or credit ratings) is based on lack of transparency and hiding information from customers. Such industries, and companies that are thriving in such industries, can only do so for so long because information will always seek a way 'out'. For example the healthcare industry will end up with our individual health records belonging to us and not the insurance companies or the healthcare systems. Develop scenarios that respect this systems concept.
  • Listen to the wisdom of the systems: similar to the concept above, analog industries to yours that are further along in the system cycle will provide you a sense for possible scenarios in your industry. For example; the utility industry is moving from a centralized to a distributed generation and supply structure, similar to what happened to the telecommunications industry about 15 years ago. Listen to the systems. This concept also suggests that cross industry expertise is going to be critical in any scenario you come up with as competition will come not just from within your industry but from outsiders as well. An example is Myfitnesspal (acquired by UnderArmour) which has data on the food habits of ~80M users, expect this company to compete with insurance or health care data companies in the not so distant future . The future of companies and careers will be ruled by those who combine skills from several areas of expertise and augment it with technology to achieve their goals. Develop scenarios that recognize this.
  • Expand the time horizons: In 2013 there was a lot of talk about drones. In 2014 there was a lot of talk about drones. In 2015 there was a lot of talk about drones. In 2016.. you guessed it, there will be a lot of talk about drones. This is not because people don’t have things to talk about, it’s because until a technology becomes ubiquitous we continue to be fascinated by the possibilities. When developing scenarios, extend your time horizons to include a timeframe when the fascinating technologies of today become regular parts of our lives and work. 

Using some of these concepts you will be able to futurecast, develop scenarios and define what you need to learn to cover your #SkillsGaps and it also helps you develop a learning mentality (due to the amount of research you will have to do).  Even if none of your scenarios come to be you would have learned a lot and gained skills. You’ll need it to thrive regardless of the changes that happen around you…

Get my ebook on Systems Thinking and Scenarios here or for the interactive version check out Amazon.

Are You A Hedgehog Or A Fox?

CULTURE can be considered the thread that holds together product, service, team, vision and processes within organizations . Most literature on organizational culture focuses on big business ignoring that most of us work in 'not Fortune 500' companies.  Small team sizes and proximity to teammates in small companies suggests there is a need to place extra focus on culture. A key component of culture is ‘mindset’; as a wo/man thinketh so s/he does. A fascinating school of thought on mindsets is the ‘Hedgehog or Fox’ idea. I discovered this reading ‘The Million Dollar Parrot’, a fascinating book on mindsets (I suggest you read).

Isaiah Berlin (1950’s philosopher), in one of his essays, divided writers and thinkers into two categories: Hedgehogs and Foxes. At it’s simplest people whoview the world through a single defining idea are Hedgehogs and people who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to one single overriding idea are termed Foxes. These mindsets bring with it different approaches to work and culture. It’s not that one mindset is better or worse than the other. They are just different.That being said, being able to creatively bring ideas/concepts/perspectives from other industries into your industry/role is making the Fox a more popular mindset.

Nicholas Kristof (Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times) applied this same hedgehog/fox analogy to financial experts in 2009. But his spin on it was that the prevailing mindset of experts in an industry drives how things get done in that industry. Applied to entrepreneurs, Steve Wozniak (Apple) and Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway) would be Hedgehogs while Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX) and Richard Branson (Virgin Group of Companies) would be considered Foxes.

Turning it to your career; do you have a lot of experience in one industry (healthcare for example) and your expertise is deep and sector specific? Then you might be a Hedgehog. But if you have worked in different skill areas within the same sector (marketing, finance and operations within healthcare for example), then you might be considered a Fox. Conversely, if you are skill specific across a few industries you are most likely considered a Fox. Whichever one you are will explain how you feel about the culture of your organization and specifically how you feel about your role.


To figure out which one you are, and determine how you think that affects your career, I suggest a three step process.

  • Dig to the core of who you are as an employee and clarify what your value systems are. Ignore anyone else. You mustn’t lie to yourself.
  • Communicate this to your manager and team. Try to figure out which of these mindsets your organizational culture encourages and celebrates. Your discontentment with your employer might come from you being a Fox in a culture that celebrates Hedgehogs (or vice versa).
  • Do the check above and take action. It is highly unlikely that your organization will change so you want to decide whether you want to change who you are or you have to find a place that values your foxiness orhedgehogginess.

Most importantly, be your own Hedgehog or your own Fox. It's never too late to become the Fox or Hedgehog you think you need to be to move your career to the next level. You'll figure it out. You always have...