Lessons Learnt

During last week, I had the absolute thrill to present to the commencement class of the Latrobe University Post Graduate program. The key theme was how to Disrupt YOU to ensure a successful career. It was so gratifying taking concepts I would normally present to the corporate world and adapt it to be relevant for career mapping. The conversations we had have inspired this post.

My son James is 10 years of age and he feels that he has it all worked out. He feels he doesn’t need to go to school because he is going to be a full time You Tuber. “They make millions Dad and what you learn in school is irrelevant and boring.” When you were ten years old and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, anything seemed possible. Astronaut. Doctor. AFL player. Rock Goddess. First female Prime Minister of Australia. Your answers then were guided simply by what you thought would make you really happy. There were no limits.

There are a determined few who never lose sight of aspiring to do something that’s truly meaningful. But for many of us, as the years go by, we allow our dreams to be peeled away. We pick our jobs for the wrong reasons and then we settle for them. We begin to accept that it’s not realistic to do something we truly love for a living.

Too many of us who start down the path of compromise will never make it back. Considering the fact that you’ll likely spend more of your waking hours at your job than in any other part of your life, it’s a compromise that will always eat at you.

But you need not resign yourself to this fate.

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about satisfaction without understanding what makes each of us tick. When we find ourselves stuck in unhappy careers – it is often the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what really motivates us.

The answer lies in a deep chasm about how the concepts of incentives and motivation relate to each other. Dr Jason Fox in his seminal book The Game Changer builds on the work of giants Frederick Herzberg, Dan Pink & Teresa Amabile in putting forward the notion that the Progress Principle is what propels us forward, not the ‘carrot and stick’.

Fox’s theory turns the incentive theory on its head. It acknowledges that you can pay people to want what you want – over and over again. But incentives are not the same as motivation. True motivation is getting people to do something because they want to do it. This type of motivation continues, in good and in bad.

If you instantly improve the hygiene factors of your job (i.e. status, compensation, job security, work conditions, company policies and supervisory practices) you are not going to suddenly love it. At best, you wont hate it anymore. The opposite of job dissatisfaction isn’t job satisfaction, but rather an absence of job dissatisfaction. They are not the same thing at all.

It is important to address hygiene factors because if you don’t, you will experience dissatisfaction with your work. But these alone wont do anything to make you love your job – they will just stop you from hating it.

So, what are the things that will truly, deeply satisfy us, the factors that will cause us to love our jobs? These are what Dr Fox’s research calls motivators. Motivation factors include progress, challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth. Feelings that you are making a meaningful contribution to work arise from intrinsic conditions of the work itself. Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation, and much more about what’s inside of you and inside of your work.

For many of us, one of the easiest mistakes to make is to focus on trying to over-satisfy the tangible trappings of professional success in the mistaken belief that those things will make us happy. Better salaries. A more prestigious title. A nicer office. They are all, what our friends and family see as signs that we have “made it” professionally. But as soon as you find yourself focusing on the tangible aspects of your job, you are at risk of chasing a mirage.

The theory of motivation suggests you need to ask yourself a different set of questions that most of us are used to asking:

These are things that will truly motivate you. Once you get this right, the more measurable aspects of your job will fade into importance.

Understanding what makes us tick is a critical step on the path to fulfillment. But that is only half the battle. You actually have to find a career that both motivates you and satisfies the hygiene factors. If it were that easy, however, wouldn’t each of us already have done that? Rarely is it so simple. You have to balance the pursuit of aspirations and goals with taking advantage of unanticipated opportunities

I am always struck by how many of my 24 year old daughter Jules’ friends and other young people I’ve worked with think they are supposed to have their careers planned out, step by step, for the next five years. High achievers, and aspiring high achievers, too often put pressure on themselves to do exactly this. Starting as early as high school, they think that to be successful they need to have a concrete vision of exactly what it is they want to do with their lives. Underlying this belief is the implicit assumption that they should only risk deviating from their vision only if things go horribly wrong.

But having such a focused plan really only makes sense in certain circumstances.

The beauty of serendipity dawned on me at a recent C-Suite retreat held by the doyen of Vitality – Nikki Fogden-Moore. I was reluctant to attend the golf day, as I hate golf. Yet at a dinner I fortuitously was sat next to Richard Pryor (the game changer, not the comedian). The abridged version of our enlightening conversation went like this, Richard:

  • Studied architecture at University
  • Started some jobs in architecture (very unhappy)
  • Started a job as a chef (very happy on $280 per week)
  • Became an awarded chef (although broke)
  • Was asked to design an out of this world kitchen for a wealthy friend
  • Was asked to do the same for the Prince of Saudi Arabia
  • Was asked to organize the catering for the Prince on his private plane
  • Started a business liaising with the world’s best provider of foods for private planes (including special gold Pepsi cans for Beyoncé)
  • Purchased a global software business in order to provide the entire logistics for private flights

A tour de force of serendipity!!

If you have found an outlet in your career that provides both the requisite hygiene factors and motivators, then a deliberate approach makes sense. Your aspirations should be clear, and you know from your previous experiences that they are worth striving for. Rather than worrying about adjusting to unexpected opportunities, your frame of mind should be focused on how best to achieve the goals you have deliberately set. I know many a CMO or CEO who have followed a deliberate path to great success. And their rise is easy to predict in hindsight.

But if you haven’t reached the point of finding a career that does this for you, then, like a new company finding its way, you need to be emergent. This is another way of saying that if you are in those circumstances, experiment in life.

Change can often be difficult, and it will probably seem easier to just stick with what you are already doing. That thinking can be dangerous. You are only kicking the can down the road, and you risk waking up one day, years later, looking in the mirror, asking yourself: “What am I doing with my life?’

A strategy? At a basic level, a strategy is what you want to achieve and how you will get there. In the business world, this is the result of multiple influences: what a company’s priorities are, how a company responds to opportunities and threats along the way, and how a company responds to opportunities and threats along the way, and how a company allocates its precious resources. These things all continuously combine, to create and evolve a strategy.

You don’t need to think about this for more than a minute, however, before you realize that this same strategy-making process is at work in every one of us as well. We have intentions for our careers. Against those intentions, opportunities and threats emerge that we haven’t anticipated. And how we allocate our resources – our time, talent and energies – in how we determine the actual strategy of our lives. Occasionally, the actual strategy maps quite closely with what we intended. But often what we actually end up doing is very different from what we set out to do.

Once you understand the concept of emergent and deliberate strategy, you’ll know that if you’ve yet to find something that really works in your career, expecting to have a clear vision of where your life will take you is just wasting time. Even worse, it may actually close your mind to unexpected opportunities.

While you are still figuring out your career, you should keep the aperture of your life wide open. Depending on your particular circumstances, you should be prepared to experiment with different opportunities, ready to pivot, and continue to adjust your strategy until you find what it is that both satisfies the hygiene factors and gives you all the motivators. Only then does a deliberate strategy make sense. When you get it right, you’ll know.

I have decided to follow an emergent / disruption strategy. The details for this can be found in next week’s newsletter.


You can talk all you want about having a strategy for your life, understanding motivation and balancing aspirations with unanticipated opportunities. But ultimately, this means nothing if you do not align with where you actually expand your time, money, and energy.

In other words, how you allocate your resources is where the rubber hits the road.

Real strategies – in companies and in our lives – is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about where we spend our resources. As you’re living your life from day to day, how do you make sure you’re heading in the right direction? Watch where your resources flow. If they are not supporting the strategy you have decided upon, then you’re not implementing that strategy at all.

A strategy – whether in companies or in life – is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy and money. With every moment of time, every decision about how you spend your energy and your money, you are making a statement about what really matters to you. You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it is effectively implemented.

How do you make sure that you’re implementing the strategy you truly want to implement? You might think you are a charitable person, but how often do you really give your time or money to a cause or an organization that you care about? If your family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you’ve made with your time in a week, does your family seem to come out on top?

Because if the decisions you make about where to invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you will never become that person.

Next week I will explore the disruptive strategies you can employ to succeed in your career.

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