Zigzagging: the value of indirect experience

Posted by Admin, Thu 20 July 2023
Many successful careers have taken an oblique path, drawing on experiences and skills from seemingly unrelated fields. How can indirect experience fuel success?

In our increasingly specialized world, it’s easy to believe that the only path to success is a linear one, following a clear trajectory from point A to point B. However, many of the most successful careers have taken an oblique path, drawing on experiences and skills from seemingly unrelated fields. How can oblique work and indirect experience fuel success?

Steve Jobs famously offered up a pithy soundbite: “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” But while that’s seductive it’s also reductive to the point of being absurd. Great work is everywhere and possible from everyone. Including those who don’t love what they are at. This direction can create a constant dissatisfaction, where people are always seeking what’s next. Another approach is to focus on what’s now. And doing an excellent job – trusting that it will lead, perhaps indirectly, to what’s next.

The one-way traditional path to success can lead to tunnel vision and a lack of creativity. In contrast, oblique work and indirect experience can broaden perspectives, create opportunities for innovation, and foster adaptability and resilience in the face of change. However, it can be difficult to convince others of the value of indirect experience. And in certain industries, specialisation is the standard.

However leaders like Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Jeff Bezos of Amazon have credited their unconventional backgrounds, including experiences in the arts and humanities, for their success. Additionally, a study by Harvard Business Review found that leaders who drew on diverse experiences were more likely to drive innovation and growth in their organizations.

We encourage candidates not to stress about indirect experience. Instead, to borrow a phrase from mindfulness: embrace and accept your unique path. Draw on the diverse experiences and skills you’ve acquired!

Leaders can also foster a culture of oblique work by encouraging experimentation and supporting learning and development in a variety of areas.

According to a survey by LinkedIn, nearly 60% of professionals said that they had jobs that are different from what they thought they’d be doing when they were younger. We think that statistic is unreliable. It should be way higher. Getting to the next level is less like a linear ladder. Zig Zagging in a career is normal and what’s more, can be beneficial.

To discover how you can take your staff to their next level of ambition, productivity, and contribution to the organization, explore our perspectives section for more.

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