Sunday, November 15, 2009

One's place in the world...or... how to pick a career

I was at a recent conference and heard a simple but brilliant perspective on finding one's place in the world. The assumption is that we are all seeking a greater purpose; a state in which we feel like we are accomplishing what we were destined for. Some seek this all the time, while some may not have these thoughts until much later in life, but it's safe to say that many probably evaluate their life in terms of purpose and place at some point or another.

One key note to make is that no matter how great one is in achievement, he will have equally great weaknesses, just like the rest of us. It's not that great athletes only have strengths and no weaknesses, they have plenty of weaknesses, they just happen to capitalize on their athletic ability. Similarly, successful politicians, CEOs, and leaders of all sorts have deep weaknesses, but are able to dramatically leverage their strengths. The fact is, Tom Brady might not make a great CEO, Abraham Lincoln probably wouldn't have been a great football player, and CEOs can make for terrible politicians. It's not the people that are therefore necessarily "great" in absolute terms, but it's rather how they apply themselves. The following diagram helps convey the message:

If one is able to identify and pursue the intersection of all three circles, the question of one's place and purpose in the world becomes much clearer. To help define the above:

  • Ability - One's ability in a certain skill or task
  • Passion - One's passion for that certain skill or task
  • Value - How much does society value that certain skill or task
As depicted by the size of the circles above, most items fall into one exclusive circle. That is, we are good at it, but we don't care for it and nobody values it anyway. Still many others fall in just two circles. For example, we have a deep passion for it, and it's valued by society, but we're just not good at it. If one can find something he is good at, has a passion for, and that skill is valued by others, that is the sweet spot. Excelling in that field can probably lead to immense success, whether spiritual, financial, or otherwise.

This analysis would ideally be applied to career searches, but that is easier said than done. Most people tend to find jobs intersecting Abilities and Value, but not Passion. In other words, they find jobs that pay a lot, and that they can do decently well, but are not passionate about. This often leads to eventually changing one's job or having a mid-life crises. Similarly, other types of people may find jobs that only intersect Abilities and Passion, such as perhaps a struggling artist.

I'm not suggesting one can "think his way" through this exercise to figure out his sweet spot. Even for the most successful, this is probably a life long process. However, thinking in these terms, and identifying the issues which make us happy, motivate us, and can make us ultimately successful, may be a key ingredient to achieving that success.

Monday, November 9, 2009

From Battlefield to B-School

Here's a great BusinessWeek article discussing the trends in military leaders transitioning to business through an MBA.

Some interesting notes:
  • 6% of those taking the GMAT have a military background
  • UVA showed a 62% increase in military applicants over last year
  • Highlights the appeal to employers
  • Common challenges that some military personnel experience are a decrease in coherent and clearly universal values, a general decrease in responsibility, and an increase in academic challenges.
  • MBAs with a military background can command a premium from companies wishing to quickly fill in managers with real world experience
For those of you applying, it would be well worth while to identify the tremendous "value proposition" you can bring to the school and potential employers... never undersell yourselves.