Category Archives: Career Development

Learning from Success So That You Keep On Succeeding

It was in my second year of being a Presidential Management Intern when I was feeling somewhat cocky after a string of successful projects. So, when I met with my boss for our weekly status meeting, I was casually leaning back in my chair, just radiating gloat. That is when he leaned forward and said, “you are only as good as your last project. What have you done for me lately?”

It was that advice that has guided me ever since. It is effortless in the euphoria surrounding the triumph of solving a difficult problem or pulling off the near-impossible project to not spend the time questioning just why you succeeded. To do so seems to diminish the success and even doubting that you did succeed. An objective review of how you succeeded will help you in continuing to achieve.

When we succeed, we can become victims of three biases, according to Gino and Pisano (April 2011). There is the attribution bias in which we overestimate how our knowledge and actions contributed to the success. We downplay any external factors that could have just made us more fortunate. The second bias is when we become overconfident in our abilities as we tackle the next challenge. The third bias (and which I believe is most important) is that we don’t ask why we succeeded because the success is proof enough.

Gino and Pisano (April 2011) recount a study in which students were given a set of math problems to complete. When the students submitted their answers, they were only told if they had the answer right or wrong. The students were given time to reflect before they were given a second set of math problems. The second set was designed so a critical concept in the first set of problems was needed to solve the second set. The students who successfully solved the first set of problems generally spent much less time reflecting before they started on the second set of problems. Thus, many of these students failed to find the answer to the second set of problems. Reflection, whether the student succeeded or not, is the key to continuing to succeed.

Sign that says people fail forward to success.

So, how do we best learn from success? We should celebrate success but also examine the causes of success. For every project, we should hold a systematic review. Gino and Pisano (April 2011) give the example of Pixar’s review process. Even though Pixar has had eleven hit animated films in a row, the company still goes through an exhaustive review process. The purpose of the review process is to determine what made the film successful and how to repeat that success.

Another point to remember is to investigate the feedback thoroughly. Was it immediate or at least can be connected to the actions taken? Is the feedback an accurate indicator of success or just a random event that looks like a successful outcome? Feedback is an important concept, and I explore it in greater detail in this discussion posting.

Two final points. First, “[r]ecognize that replication is not learning” (Gino and Pisano, April 2011). Blindly following the same formula again and again can suddenly turn against us as the nature of the problem changes, and what worked before doesn’t work now. And, second, we should always experiment. We can continually improve how we do something. Plus, we can create variations on our actions that may not apply to the current situation but can apply to a challenge.

Failure is a great teacher, but so is a success. Learning from our successes will keep us from becoming “one-hit wonders” and give us the string of successful “hits” to be “rock stars.”

Reference:

Pino, F., & Pisano, G.P. (April 2011). Why leaders don’t learn from success. Harvard Business Review. 68-74.

OK, Generational Stereotype! Why Successful Intelligence Matters in the Workplace

It was during the last three hours of a three-day pre-retirement seminar when I felt like banging my head against my desk. Even though retirement planning can be a boring subject, I enjoyed the two-and-half days of information. Well-researched information I could put to immediate use in helping have a successful retirement.

Then, the last speaker talked about preparing psychologically for retirement. As retirement was still years off for me, I only half-listened. Fifteen minutes into the presentation, and the usual generational stereotypes popped up. I won’t repeat them here other to say that the Boomers were more than a little smug about their retirement prospects while they lamented the Generation X and Millennials’ retirement plans.

Since I started in the federal government as a Presidential Management Fellow in 1997, I have been to many pieces of training on the generations in the workplace. I remember when I, a Generation Xer, was the new kid on the block. Then, coming back to government in December 2008, the new generational star was the Millennials. Now, nearly eleven years later, it’s Generation Z.

Now, I do not entirely disregard generational differences. Differences between the generations are real. But, as research has shown (especially by Dr. Jennifer Deal), there is more in common between the generations than there are differences. I often point out that differences in gender, sexual identification, where you grew up, and other factors have more impact on your personality formation than just your generational cohort. Dr. Little’s personality research is a significant influence on my thinking.

I was at lunch with a colleague bemoaning a recent training on generational differences when she asked what I thought differentiated people. “Successful intelligence,” I immediately said.

I hadn’t thought about successful intelligence for years. It was in 1998 I discovered Dr. Sternberg’s book, The Triarchic Mind, and his concept of successful intelligence.

Chess set and chess board.

According to Dr. Sternberg, successful intelligence is:

“[D]efined as one’s ability to set and accomplish personally meaningful goals in one’s life, given one’s cultural context.  A successfully intelligent person accomplishes these goals by figuring out his or her strengths and weaknesses, and then by capitalizing on the strengths and correcting or compensating for the weaknesses.  Strengths and weaknesses are in terms of four kinds of skills:  creative, analytical, practical, and wisdom-based.  In particular, the individual needs to be creative in order to generate novel and useful ideas; analytical to ascertain that the ideas he/she has (and that others have) are good ones; practical in order to apply those ideas and convince others of their value; and wise in order to ensure that implementation of the ideas will help ensure a common good through the mediation of positive ethical principles.”

His concepts spurred me to work on increasing my creative and practical intelligence. My analytical intelligence was well-developed, but I was persuaded that I needed to balance my analytical intelligence by building up my creative and practical intelligence. In 1997, Sternberg released his follow-book, Successful Intelligence. I bought his book just as I started my Presidential Management Fellowship and decided that gaining my project management certification was a great way to increase my practical intelligence. In recent years, design thinking has helped me improve my creative intelligence.

I explained to my colleague I have noticed that the more successful people at work seem to have a good balance of analytical, creative, practical, and wisdom intelligence. In my admittedly informal observations, the workers with an optimal balance of the four intelligences are better colleagues, more productive, and accomplish much. It doesn’t matter the colleague’s race, gender, generational cohort, or other observable differences.

The best thing about successful intelligence is that it can be developed. As a training and development professional, I can help people to determine which intelligence they want to build. For example, I wanted to be more effective in implementing my ideas, and that is why I studied project management. Design thinking has helped me become better at generating creative ideas. With the proper coaching, mentoring, and training, any worker can reach a good balance between the four intelligences.

Therefore, I disregard generational stereotypes. Dismissing a person based on their generational cohort is as wrong as rejecting a person because of their gender, sexual identification, race, or similar difference. What I look for is how successfully intelligent the person is. But, before you judge other people’s successful intelligence, take the measure of your successful intelligence.

Scenario Planning – An Essential Career Planning Skill

I am continuing to work on the career book which will be released on December 1st. Along with the book, I will be releasing an online course that teaches the job-seeking skills for the new job seeker.

A vital skill for future job seekers will include scenario planning. Scenario planning was developed by the Shell Corporation in the 1970s to help deal with economic uncertainties. One scenario, oil embargo by the OPEC nations, was considered too fanciful – until it happened. Thanks to scenario planning, Shell weathered the oil embargo successfully.

The job hunter will use scenario planning to help them plot the future of their career path. To create the scenarios, follow these steps:

Identify the driving forces – what are the significant shifts in technology, society, the customer base, and other factors in the industry.

Identify two of the most critical uncertainties – From the list of the driving forces, pick two that are most critical to your future career.

Create four scenarios – Using the two critical uncertainties as axis, develop four plausible scenarios. The best way to present the scenarios is as stories.

Person wearing VR goggles

For example, I created these scenarios when I first entered the federal government in 2009. This was when newly elected President Obama wanted to reinvent government technology. The critical factors were the new digital technologies and how effective the federal government would be in implementing the latest digital technologies.

First Scenario – SteamGov

This scenario borrows from the steampunk genre[iv] in describing a future where the government attempts to implement Gov 2.0, but the rest of the world has moved on to Web 3.0 or even Web 4.0.

Government IT is still a generation behind the current technology available to citizens, thus limiting the engagement offered by the agencies. Large, centralized IT architectures dominate the agencies and employees are continually frustrated by the underpowered workstations they have to deal with, especially when their own personal technology is much more powerful. There are small pockets of innovation and pilot projects, but organizational cultures prevent scaling up these innovations to the agency.

Second Scenario – Google.Gov

Following a Supreme Court ruling that narrows the definition of inherently governmental, most government functions are outsourced to the private and nonprofit sectors. A Google-like company consolidates most of the outsourcing contractors into one contracting firm that applies the latest technology and business practices to deliver a diverse range of government services. The Executive Branch now consists of the White House staff and a larger GAO. The new GAO administers the mega-contract that governs the quality and accountability of government services provided by the huge contracting firm.

Third Scenario – LabGov

Still suffering under crushing budget constraints and frustrated by the continuing number of programs forced onto the states by the Federal government, state governments see Gov 2.0 as the way out of their fiscal mess. Living up to Justice Brandeis’ metaphor as “laboratories of democracy,” the state governments experiment with the latest open-source technologies, agile project management, and any other IT or management innovations that promise greater efficiency at lower costs and higher citizen satisfaction.

Citizens respond with enthusiasm and petition to have more federal programs (and funds) transferred to the states because they can manage services better, faster, and cheaper than the federal government. States form into regional and programmatic associations that shift the federal-state balance-of-power from the national government to regional governmental organizations.

Fourth Scenario – InnoGov

In 2011 the civilian equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration was established. Its mandate is to be the project management office for Gov 2.0, and the office seeks innovative Gov 2.0 projects, funds the development of these projects, and helps other agencies to copy the innovations. New radical management techniques are introduced, and organizational cultures become more collaborative and innovative.

By 2014 the federal government is the leading innovator in IT and management practices and helps to revitalize the private and non-profit sectors with its technology/best practices transfer programs. Citizen engagement and trust in government rises while the cost-savings and greater efficiencies bring about an era of budget surpluses.

In the past ten years, I have used the scenarios to help me plan my federal career. In fact, the LabGov scenario drives my long-term plans to be a consultant to state and local governments.

My career book will help job seekers create guiding scenarios to map out their career futures.

The OODA Loop and Developing Your Career

I am making good progress on my latest book. In an earlier blog post, I described my book as a career development guide for the new age of artificial intelligence and cognitive automation. As old jobs fall away, new jobs that can’t be imagined today will be well-established in the later years of the 2020s.

The major challenge for the job hunter is finding these new jobs. My career book is the first to use the OODA Loop in career development. The OODA (Observe – Orient – Decide – Act) Loop was developed by a brilliant, maverick U.S. fighter pilot. Colonel John Boyd’s work has been adopted by the U.S. Army and was used successfully in the first Iraqi War.

OODA Loop Diagram

The OODA Loop concept has been adopted in strategic business management and even political campaigning. The OODA Loop looks simple, but it has an underlying sophistication that makes it powerful.

In the first part, Observe, a person (or entity) takes stock of the immediate environment and stimulus. After observing the environment and stimulus, the person then orients their self so they can decide (third step) and take action (fourth step). An OODA Loop can be completed in seconds or take months, depending on the situation.

In my forthcoming book, I use the OODA Loop to help the job seeker understand the rapidly-evolving career environment and determine how to orient their self to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Effectively performing the first two steps will help the job seeker make good decisions and take powerful actions to thrive in the new world of work.

What to Do When Your Boss is Jealous of You

When I met my friend for lunch, I could tell she was upset. She had started a new job over a year ago, and everything was going well. Many happy emails about her great work projects and the way her boss kept praising her work. Recently, the emails stopped. Then, a short email asking if I could meet for lunch.

I told her my job was going well and about the exciting projects I was working. She sighed and said that she had worked on some great projects but, was suddenly taken off all the projects. She was now relegated to tedious administrative tasks while her boss continually criticized her about her performance. Her boss used to love my friend’s work but, for the last six months, my friend couldn’t seem to do anything right.

I think I knew what was going on, but, I wanted to check further. So, I asked my friend if:

1. She suddenly had limited access to her boss.

2. Her boss stopped praising her in front of co-workers.

3. Her boss doesn’t respect her opinion anymore.

4. Any communications to higher-ups needed to go through her boss.

5. She was told by her boss not to speak at public events or people in other departments.

6. Her boss no longer talks about developing her.

7. Other managers seem to shun her.

My friend was amazed at how I knew all this was happening. I couldn’t claim credit because I had read about these signs from a 2017 Forbes article by Liz Ryan. Ms. Ryan wrote about how some bosses can become “spooked by a too-competent or too-confident subordinate for almost any reason — and once that happens, they will try to make your life miserable!”

Laptop screen showing "Do More."

Ms. Ryan explains that it takes little for a boss to become jealous of a successful subordinate. Just one successful presentation to senior management or success with a highly visible project is enough to scare your immediate supervisor.

“What do I do?” asked my friend.

Unfortunately, Ms. Ryan advises a stealth job search. Once your boss sees you as a threat, it will be impossible to convince him or her you are not. Staying will only damage your morale and your reputation for excellence.

While you are job searching, make sure that you are doing your best at even the most menial tasks assigned to you. Also, try to find objective evaluations of your work, such as customer reviews and sympathetic co-workers that you trust. Another way of keeping your morale up is to be active in professional associations and volunteer work. What you are trying to do is minimize any impact your boss’s opinion will have on you and any future employers.

“So, what do I say when they asked me why I left my previous job?”

Tell the truth; you wanted opportunities to develop yourself. Emphasize the accomplishments from your previous job and how these accomplishments encouraged to you grow your skills and abilities. Talk about how you used your work with the professional organization and volunteer groups to prepare you for your next move.

Above all: do not criticize your former boss. True that your former boss mistreated you by being jealous, but that is his or her problem and not yours. If you want to think about this way, your old boss was paying you a compliment by being jealous. A strange compliment but, think positive.

As I told my friend, it is not fair that being good at your job can lead to jealousy by your boss. However, this may be a lucky break for you because you will most likely find a better job. And a better boss who appreciates you and your talents.