Saturday, May 16, 2009

How Did We Get... Here?

If you learned everything about life from watching movies, you might see your life as sort of a flowing, unfolding path, building to some dramatic finale. I remember listening to this Radiolab show talked about this odd aspect of humans and how, as we go through life, our mind actually rewrites the story in our head (I think that this might be the episode). Inside our mind, we actively construct and reconstruct the narrative that we tell ourselves about our lives (of course, I may have simply constructed that story in my head).

With the evolution of the modern economy, our professional lives have shifted from something planned and predictable to a crazy roller coaster ride that leads us into strange and unpredictable places. Even in regions and places where people once expected lifelong careers, going to work, building a life, and having a predictable pattern that they structure their lives around, the idea is gone. In the great landscape of career analogies, we have shifted from an "agricultural" job market -- where we once worked the soil of a career, year in and year out -- to become "career hunter-gatherers" -- nomads wandering the landscape looking for places and opportunities that will support us (Welcome to the Silicon Valley Tribe!). Now you're here, but when you left high school and went to college, when you started your first job, did you really expect to be doing what you're doing today?

But I'm Just a Marketing Goomer...
As I mentioned in an early post, I never expected to be working in the corporate world. And yet, as I've moved through the nomadic path of my career, I've found myself traveling deeper into the corporate landscape. While my writing and creativity were my essential tools early on, over time I've found a need to learn a whole different set of tools that I never would have considered pursuing in the preceding years -- and I'm not just talking about learning about the markets that you sell into or learning how to use a new software tool. While I've had to build some expertise and understanding of the many markets that I've worked in, I've also found myself wandering into strange territories. For example, in the past six months, I've downloaded programming and software development tools for two different software platforms. What's more, I don't think that I'm unique in being pulled this way -- this seems like a common direction for a lot of us in the Silicon Valley tribe.

This strange evolution leads to a lot of introspective thinking. How did I get here? Why am I now learning how to apply these complex technologies, to design and manage computer networks, to develop software and write programming code? What happened to all of the people who actually studied this kind of stuff in school? What do I know that they don't? I'm not going to pretend that I know more than them, but why am I being pushed and pulled into these solving these kinds of problems? More importantly, as I've now become some sort of weird hybrid/mutant creature, what am I?

On Marketing and and Mutants
The thing about marketing is that, in one sense, it's all about categorization and being part of a group. You learn about the customer so that you can divide them into categories. As customers, we are drawn to products, brands, and images that we believe match a category that represents us. When you're looking for how to position a product, you're looking for ways to define categories that will help the customer be a part of that group. You apply this same categorization practice on a personal level every time you search for and apply to a job.

So what happens when the market changes, or when the 'what you do' is undergoing such a radical transformation that it's hard to determine what category that you fit into? What happens when the old definitions start to fall apart, when the 'where you are going' is so different that there isn't a category defined yet? How do you know what job to look for if you don't know the title? How does somebody rank what you're worth or value the unique aspects that you might bring to the table? Who sets the benchmarks for the category?

Creole and an Interesting Aspect of Synthesis
A few weeks ago, I came across this radio segment about Creole languages and a linguistic experiment. While I have always associated the idea of Creole with Louisiana, Cajun food, and the synthesis of flavors, I wasn't familiar with Creole as it applied to linguistics. From the transcript of the program, "Creoles are hybrids that come into being when people who speak different languages live side by side." As the program also noted, "Creoles and islands kind of go together." Basically, a Creole language becomes the hybrid that servers for communication on the specific island.

So, back to introspective land here -- if you think of each company, each specialty, as a language, one question that you may want to ask yourself as you synthesize your new hybrid is... are you becoming something and speaking something that is useful to someone outside of your own island? Will the world that you are targeting recognize your new language or will they simply scoff at your very bad French? You may be able to make an awesome roux, incredible crawfish etouffee and seafood gumbo, but if you're trying to feed very unadventurous eaters, you still may have an uphill battle just trying to get them to taste your food.

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