Sunday, December 14, 2014

There are no accidents in careers

Someone once told me that there are no accidents in life (he meant in career trajectories actually). Where you end up does indeed correspond to your innermost potential.

Many people believe that they are under-rated by their colleagues and that their inner worth is not (or not yet) appreciated. In particular, they wonder why they have not yet been promoted. Yet if you ask those very same people how they rate their workmates, they will give you a devastatingly accurate account of their strengths and weaknesses. It's really rather astonishing how quickly people can come to an accurate view of others' potential.

I've had a number of reasonably senior management positions over the years and we frequently had to dip into the available talent pool to try to fill a management vacancy. Invariably it was hard work: most people are, by definition, pretty average and only a few sparkle. On the rare occasions where we happened to identify a junior with genuine talent, it was noteworthy how rapidly they subsequently progressed through the ranks. Everybody wants a star. This is perhaps clearer to observe in entertainment, the media and in sports.

Of course, I had the privilege of working in meritocratic organisations not blighted by nepotism or corruption; and not packed with mediocre place-holders fearful of being shown up or being made to feel uncomfortable.

Back in 2001 when I was VP for systems architecture in Cable & Wireless Global (the title was Chief Architect) my nickname was 'the professor'. My then-colleagues in the industry are still beavering away now in a variety of C-level jobs, building their empires and their pensions. By contrast I'm retired and getting my head around genetics, quantum theory and differential geometry.

You know, they wouldn't be at all surprised.