Why Your Career Should Be A Grand Experiment

So much for climbing the ladder. Here's how to build a career in a non-linear world.

Careers don't move linearly, we've learned: They jump up with serendipitous opportunities, they ratchet up click moment by click moment.

A clever strategy for planning our careers, then, is to create as many of these opportunities as possible. In other words, listen to ReWork CEO Nathaniel Koloc over at HBR, and turn your career into a grand experiment.

Iterating on work

Experimentalism is already in at many organizations, as the most-forwarding-thinking companies turn themselves into engines of possibility, constantly churning through iterations of products and process.

Why's it work?

When you get the product into the world, the world will give you feedback, to the point that reach the magical point of product-market fit, which mega-VC Marc Andreessen once curiously compared to orgasm.

But the point sticks: An experiment is an interaction with the world, and you might say, an intercourse with it (Nathaniel Hawthorne thought so).

The move for us career evolvers, then, is to take that startup insight into our working lives.

We do this by forming hypotheses about what we want, Koloc says, then testing them out:

All of the things you think you know about what you want to be doing, what you're good at, what people want to hire you to do (and at what salary), how different organizations operate, etc. are hypotheses that can be validated or invalidated with evidence—either from the first-hand experience of trying something (including bite-sized projects), or second-hand from asking the right questions of the right people.

The faster and cheaper that you're able to validate your career hypotheses, the sooner you'll find fulfillment.

But you don't need to get hired full-time to find out if a given gig, industry, or craft is right for you. We can test our hypotheses with the following:

  • In some cases working for free makes sense, especially if it's a side hustle that lets you find out if the job could become a full-time hustle.
  • Talk to people that have the jobs, as finance-productivity connoisseur Bob Pozen would say. If you want to be a project manager, talk to project managers.
  • To learn a craft, do it every day. (As in: Every. Day.) As Karen Cheng showed us, if you want to be a dancer, dance every day. If you want to be a designer, design every day.

Have more ideas on how to demo your career? Let us know in the comments.

Hat tip: HBR

[Image: Flickr user Chang Liu]

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2 Comments

  • WMC

    Help me with this: You ask; "Have more ideas on how to demo your career? Let us know in the comments" yet, it seems, this is not about a demonstration of one's career. It's about grabbing life samples wherever/however, NOT about giving out samples. Or, perhaps it is both, right?

  • David Sollars

    Drake, one of my mentors taught me to seek out interesting people doing cool stuff and ask them how they got started. I met him that way and became one of his division presidents in a field I had never worked in, yet had experience in creativity and product development. We began to do cool stuff together.

    He always encouraged me to give myself permission to stretch my possabilities. he modeled this key behavior by constantly experimenting with product iterations and became as you say an and engine of possibility that continues to inspire me.

    Hope you get to Kyoto.