Do you have the purpose, goal and plan to grow your career or business to being the right size fish in the right size pond for your life’s work?
Big Fish_ (Audio)
How do you perceive your role and yourself? Do you consider yourself to be a big fish in a big pond? Or a small fish in a big pond? Or maybe a big fish in a small pond? Or perhaps even a small fish in a small pond? It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
I’ve been doing a lot of “fork in the road” career planning and career management work in my coaching and mentoring assignments recently where this metaphor has come up quite often, and it made me think it was a worthy topic to discuss in a blog. The “fish” features in many a metaphor, doesn’t it?
I shared with you in the past that when I transitioned out of decades in corporate business life into running my own business I too chose to work with a coach to guide me through that. She used the metaphor that in all those decades (most of them within the umbrella of the same global organization) that I was like a fish foraging in the deep depths of the bottom of the ocean and that it was time to come up to the surface “for air” and “see” what else was available in the big pond.
In the context of career planning and career management, which pond we choose can be quite important. By that I mean perhaps geography, industry, profession, even company.
Perspective on big fish
So as CIO in Siemens, many thought I was a pretty big fish in a pretty big pond. I looked at the global business world around me and my pond quite somewhat smaller than for example the global CEO of the company I worked for. There is always something bigger to strive for, isn’t there. Which is why I often use the saying: “you walk a mile, and then see a mile”.
However, there is also another dimension at play here, namely our own perception of ourselves based on our self worth.
I’m sure many of you have heard of the story of the job ad placed for a certain role, listing all the required attributes and experienced and describing what it would take to do the job successfully. It quoted an income of $70K, which attracted over 300 applicants. When exactly the same ad was placed the following week but for an income of $250K it only attracted 4 applicants. Why, because most people looking at “$70K roles” don’t view themselves being worth $250K.
Which can have a huge impact of our perception of the size of the fish and the pond we deem ourselves to be Good enough for.
Also, isn’t perspective about how differently we might see things? Remember the story of where a passer-by to a large church construction site stopped to ask some of the men what they were doing? How most would say: “what does it look like – we’re laying bricks” until they came to one who looked exactly the same as the rest but who said with quite some pride of purpose: “I’m building a cathedral”! What is your purpose?
Of course whenever we plan a career change we have to look at the risks of leaving what we currently have to chase something that we aspire to, and we sometimes ask ourselves “can I afford to do that” while the situation may in fact merit posing the question as: “can I afford not to?”
I am reminded of a great story I read in the book “Wikinomics” where GoldCorp Inc., a Canadian gold mining company was going downhill fast and required desperate measures to save the company. The in house geology resources could not find the “leader reef” that promised the gold required to survive, let alone thrive.
At a conference in 1999, CEO Rob McEwen was exposed to the concept of “open source” when he was introduced to the LINUX operating system – an approach where “anyone and everyone” could add value to an operating system (within certain control parameters, of course) making it “bigger and better” for everyone as well. It opened his mind to some “outside the box” thinking.
He decided they had nothing to lose, and against the (obvious) chagrin of his in house geologists, “opened up” the company’s geology data back from 1948 and made it available to anyone and everyone via the Internet, allocating prize money of U$500K to the “best insights” that would lead to the desired 6,000 ozs of gold they sought.
So whilst in the old and “closed” model he could only afford certain geology resources within his payroll, he now had the very best brains and minds in the world working for him, including a bunch of people from well outside the geology and mining confines all adding their “out the box” insights. They identified over 100 targets, half of which his internal resources were unaware of and of which 80% yielded substantial gold quantities. The result? Within a few years GoldCorp went from a struggling $100million company to a thriving $6billion company. From a small fish in a big pond to a much larger fish in the same pond and probably opening many doors to many bigger ponds as well, right?
Big Fish and Career Management
So if you reflect back on your career, how well “planned” was it from the start? Of course we all chose some form of start to that career when we chose our selected education path after school, didn’t we? That would probably have included some thinking about the career path we saw for ourselves. For a number of you there may have been a clear picture of “what you wanted to be”, like the child expressing that it wants to be a “fire engine driver”. Would you agree with me however, that for most, after that initial idea, that we seemed more often to “fall into” our different roles as our career progressed?
I know that I did, which is one of the reasons I wrote Are you a “fetch” person?. It is so normal in a career that we respond to an opportunity that is “brought to us” rather than have a clear “career big picture” in mind and then “fetching” the roles that will lead to that aspired longer term outcome, isn’t it?
And so in the career management assignments I spoke of at the start, we work hard to have the client identify and create a vision for some of their “end goal big picture career scenarios”. Then, based on where they are at that point, and taking everything into account that “got them there” map out some likely roles that would serve as the right stepping stones to get them to where they want to be. We look at what doors each one might open and what doors each one would close and also assess where we can use Leap Frogging to fast track the aspired outcomes.
Bigger fish or “righter”fish?
You’ve heard people saying: “I have bigger fish to fry”, haven’t you? That’s setting a priority perspective similar to “don’t sweat the small stuff – rather major on the majors”.
Bigger doesn’t always have to be better. I like to use the term that the next role needs to be “righter”. By that I mean in terms of being right to advance your position towards your “big picture end goal”. It’s like a yacht on the ocean without a rudder – completely at the mercy of the prevailing winds. Put a rudder in the water and the tiller enables the yacht to tack exactly to where its skipper wants to go.
If you have a purpose and a goal, you can steer your career to getting there. If you don’t, won’t you then just keep “falling into” the next role(s) and decrease the likelihood that you will grow your career to being the right size fish in the right pond for your career?
So what if you took a checkpoint on your career right now and Taking Stock, you looked at your purpose and your vision for your life’s work? What if you looked at your view of your “fish” and your “pond” and where you thought that was at the moment. Are you on track? Do you have a track? Do you need to make some adjustments? Is it maybe worth finding a sounding board, a thinking partner to challenge your thinking, so that you don’t stay in the current pond too long and orchestrate a planned path exactly to where you wanted that to go.
What if you did and your realized that instead of “just being a bricklayer” you could be (or in fact already were) “building the cathedral?
What if you could?