Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Success Patterns

In one of my previous columns, we spoke about building a career like a Rahul Dravid or a Virender Sehwag. But, who identifies a potential Rahul Dravid from a Virender Sehwag. How does one figure out what one is? How does one ensure that a Dravid is not forced to become a Sehwag or vice versa?

There are two methods here. One is a coach method and one is a self analysis method.

Without a Ramakant Achrekar, it is tough to say whether a Tendulkar would have been spotted so early. And without those Ramakant Achrekars, it is tough to say how many Tendulkars we lost. Coaches, mentors are difficult people to get. Good coaches and mentors, are even more difficult to come by. Especially when your career is just starting off.

Here is a second option. The self analysis method. There is a Marcus Buckingham book available in the market, Now Discover your Strengths (and an upgraded version as well). Buy it and attempt the test that the book has - this will give you a small idea of your strengths. Keep it aside.

Now look back at your life and define what are the successful moments in your life as defined by you. So, if you helped organize a volunteer effort and felt happy about it - count it. If you were the president of the college cultural academy count it. If you ran a small business and worked on something that made you feel good, count it. Do not define success by money or fame or any one thing - unless you are entirely sure that is all there to success.

Define success by your own means - it in general could mean that you were willing to explore some aspect of your capability. The end result could very well mean that you fall flat while trying, but even this counts. It means you did not try hard enough or it means simply that you are not cut out to doing that kind of work.

Write down all your successes and failures. Write down what you did well there and what you did not. Write down what in that success and failure made you feel good. What would you change about them? What would you not?

For example, if you were the cultural secretary of your college - what was the achievement you are proud of? Proud of getting your team to work? Proud of getting your team to deliver? Or were you part of the team that a great job? Each of these three things tells you that you were a good leader, a person with good execution capability or that you were a good team player.

Do this for every single one of your achievements. You will find what I call as a success pattern. These are things “that you like to do”. In many cases this will also be “what you are good at”. It is important to look beyond the obvious here. Organizing a college festival may or may not mean you want to organize college fests or other fests for the rest of your life. It could shine light on your organizational capabilities. Or it could throw light on your ability to network. Or it could tell you that you are not a good team player. There will be environmental variables in this - especially in the way that you get returns on your successes - be sure to take them with a pinch of salt. Focus on your individual characters and traits and what you enjoyed doing.

When you are finally done, it will give you some sort of insight into what I call as “Success patterns”. And perhaps, even “Failure patterns”. When you do this a few years into your career, it will tell you exactly what you are good at and what you tend to succeed at. This does not mean you should not try new things - but sometimes, it helps avoid situations where you might find yourself being set up for failure. If you are a team player, there is no point trying to create a career for yourself as an individual contributor - or vice versa. If you are a technical person and love the technical challenges, your best bet is to leave the marketing to others. If your best bet is to be a cog in the wheel dont burn yourself trying to become an entrepreneur. And so on.

How to make your success patterns work? Sometimes, you can mould a challenge in a way that it is closer to you are good at. Lets say, you have an extremely challenging project to handle. But you love the technical bits and do not enjoy the finance bit. Then, perhaps you might want to handle the technical bit yourself while you leave the number crunching to someone else in your team or recruit somebody into your team with the requisite skill. If you are building a specialized skill, you can offer yourself as the go-to person for all things technical and assist somebody while they are working on a project.

Couple of caveats. This is not as easy as it sounds. There is a strong element of confirmation bias here. It does mean you do not try anything new - if that is the case, you are setting yourself up for failure right away. It also does mean just because you succeeded in a few things with a certain environment variable (say in one firm) you will repeat the success in another firm. For instance, corporate cultures may be different. And then again, hindsight is always 20-20. Also, this will help once you are a few years into your career - it will have limited impact for a fresher just out of college.

There are important lessons to be learnt from Failure patterns as well, but thats for another day.

(A slightly edited version of this made was printed in Advancedge Nov 2010)

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