Sunday, November 09, 2014

Whippersnappers & Turnips

There are two fairly important things that have changed that we need to teach to young whippersnappers who are planning a career. The first is that we are almost all young whippersnappers. The idea of working till 65 was an industrial age concept that basically meant you worked till you couldn't, then you dropped. In an Age of Creativity, it isn't brute strength that gets you through, it is your ability to connect dots. I don't agree that we can outsource our knowledge to computers. Dot connecting is done by your Elephant. You can't really know something by looking it up. You have to internalise the knowledge so that we can use the magic parts of our brains that computers can't replicate. A pianist doesn't look up the next key to play. At some point the fingers just know and the pianist concentrates on the performance and emotional side of the music. The older you get, the bigger your bag of tricks of emotional competencies. The older you get, the more you know the stuff you can't look up.

The second point is that the shape of the ladder has changed. The High Pay Centre has said that UK bosses earn 143 times more than the average employee. This is three times higher than in 1998. The fairness or otherwise of this is not what I would like to talk about in this post. It does however have very real implications for career planning and investment planning. If your salary increases at a steady rate roughly in line with your investments, then it makes sense to invest quite aggressively. If however your salary increases slowly and then has a spike (if you are aiming for a top job), then saving aggressively early on makes very little sense. In fact there may even be an argument for borrowing aggressively. Compound interest is powerful, but getting to be the one to hold the knife when the pie is cut up may be even more so.

Combine the two points above and you may need to completely rethink how you approach your career planning. If the boom years are in your 50s and 60s, climbing the ladder aggressively and saving aggressively while you are young may be a very dated approach. To be a senior executive when creativity is the most important thing may take some long term planning. You may climb four rungs on the ladder very quickly and then be too expensive to hire on a new ladder offering new skills. You may like the climbing and so push on but then get trapped. A better approach could be to take the 'scenic route'. A senior executive needs a network of connections. They need to be inspirational and to understand people. They need to be able to understand the world around them and interact with it. They need to communicate clearly and think deeply. This requires a wide variety of interests. People tend to be interested in you if you are interested in them. It may be that the leaders of the future need to have climbed the first few rungs of multiple ladders. It will not matter when they are getting 143 turnips that they were getting 4 turnips to your 10 in the early days.

Be careful aiming for 10 turnips

A final thought is that if you listen to Ken Robinson and agree that our education missed a trick leaving out some of the more creative pursuits, it may be that a career that ends at 80 or 90, and 'kicks in' at 50 or 60, means in earlier years (20-50) you need to fill in some of those educational holes we have due to misplaced focus in early years. 

P.S. here is an example of a rather long career for a clearly very special lady...

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