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Great career advice: look for rocket ships

Jul 29, 2013 Business Daily, Success

“Eric responded with perhaps the best piece of career advice that I have ever heard. He covered my spreadsheet with his hand and told me not to be an idiot (also a great piece of advice). Then he explained that only one criterion mattered when picking a job – fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them. When companies grow more slowly or stop growing, there is less to do and too many people to not be doing them. Politics and stagnation set in, and everyone falters. He told me, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.””

SHERYL SANDBERG ‘Lean In’ (2013)

‘Lean In’ is the book every woman in corporate employment is discussing right now. It’s a powerful polemic from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, urging women to come to the table and participate in leadership to their fullest.

However, one of the best paragraphs in the book has little to do with women or men: it’s a universal lesson in personal advancement. I have excerpted it above.

The ‘I’ in the paragraph shown is Ms Sandberg; the ‘Eric’ offering the advice is Eric Schmidt, then CEO of the relatively unknown Google. Ms Sandberg was considering many job offers at the time, and had set up a spreadsheet, like good MBA-types do, to analyze the various opportunities. She listed the companies in the rows and her various selection criteria in the columns. (We’ve all made those spreadsheets…)

The young Google was one of those opportunities. The problem was, it was small and amorphous, with few structures or even business units. The other opportunities, on the other hand, were in established corporations, with preset responsibilities, security, and probably much better pay.

Eric Schmidt responded with the advice in the paragraph shown. Ms Sandberg took the job that instant. I would have, too.

In business life, there are few opportunities to be part of something truly big, good and fast. When those opportunities come, people of true ambition take them, no questions asked. They don’t haggle or quibble; they get on board. After that, they generally have the ride of their lives – messy, chaotic, not always the best-paid – but they GROW.

Early in my own career, I left a very large, renowned, established consulting firm in London to join a very small, unknown, new one. Its offices were less prestigious and its pay and perks were good enough rather than great. I took the job without much hesitation. Why? Because the partners told me that in this firm I would take charge of assignments, lead teams and use my own judgement. And I saw that this tiny boutique firm was doing strategy work for huge clients: British Telecom, London Underground and Zurich Life included.

Two years later the firm was gone, when the three founding partners decided to part company. I have still never regretted my decision to join them. It was a great two years, in which I grew rapidly as a person and took chances I never would have otherwise at so young an age.

People who are going to have an impact on this world either invent rocket ships, or hop on board early. The rest? Well, they stay in safe-and-secure organizations doing tried-and-tested things for very-competitive-packages. They are happy, because security and status gives them happiness. Most of these organizations become slow punctures over time, and the individuals end up learning skills like politicking and schmoozing rather than the things that actually matter.

It’s a personal choice. But if you want a life of meaning in business, look out for rocket ships early in your life, and belt up.

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