Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hill climbing problem with your career

Chris Dixon's has an interesting post on hill climbing as it relates to career development. In short, his basic premise is to imagine your career is a 3d surface and your goal is to get as high on this surface as possible. He then outlines a couple of algorithms to do this.

In explaining some trivial solutions I was struck by a common problem in people who work for a living. We are creatures of habit and we love the known. In addition, the known pulls at us due to it's immediacy, after all, it's right HERE, right NOW, I'm 100% certain of what it is. If I where to start venturing out into the unknown, I better have a reasonally high expectation of something positive happening. If I'm going into the unknown AND I'm fairly sure I'm going to have a negative outcome, it takes an inhuman (maybe vulcan) amount of logical reasoning to act counter to that intuition.

Put another way, I believe the reality of life is that this 3d surface metaphor is further complicated by the idea that it is more like an undulating surface whose peaks and valleys are constantly moving. This means that the job of moving upward is more active that explained in his post. In addition, this makes application of the metaphor make more sense from an economic perspective. Sure, being a big 3 executive is a sweet gig if you can get yourself into that position... but is it STILL that way?

People who think they deserve bailouts or stick around in dead industries or crappy jobs while bemoaning their state of affairs aren't necessarily stuck at a suboptimal peak. They could very well have hit a pinnacle at some point and their mental model of where they are was frozen while the reality shifted beneath them. They KNOW they are at the top of the highest mountain, why should they bother to look around and verify this information? In my mind, this should have the cartoonish consequence of them hovering in mid-air like wile-e coyote for a few moments before they realize they are sitting on nothing and then plummeting to the ground.

What does all this mean? It means if you're in a "sweet gig", but think it totally sucks and all you can do is complain about it, you're probably experiencing the mental stress of trying to reconcile the fact that you think you're at the top of the mountain, but in fact the substance that is holding you up is actually sheer mental stubbornness. If you cannot see this, you you may need to strike out into the unknown to reform your mental model of the world and begin to again see reality as it is.

What is also means is that if you think you're at the bottom of a deep dark valley, but things seem surprisingly OK, you might actually be in a better place than you really think you are (think a boat riding up a wave... it doesn't take a lot of effort). You might also do well to strike out and see what's around you.

No comments: