Your next career move should be small

img_1614If you’re feeling stuck at work, you can quickly fall into a vicious cycle. You know you should do something different with your life, but you’re not sure exactly what. The thought of changing jobs or careers is so overwhelming, and you’re so busy as it is, that it’s easier not to do anything. So there you stay.

Jenny Blake’s new book: Pivot, suggests an alternative: do a series of small moves to see what works and what you like. The volume of bets reduces the pressure on any one experiment to work. You’ll create momentum, and learn enough about yourself, that the right bigger move will be more obvious.

She calls these moves career “pilot projects.” In TV-lingo, a pilot is a test episode that a network evaluates before committing to a full season. It is not just an idea, it is an actual show. But it is pretty close to the “minimum viable product” concept from the lean start-up movement. You commit some resources, but not as many as you could. You put the product out in front of relevant stakeholders, and get their feedback. Failure is OK, because you haven’t invested much, and since you’re trying lots of things, something will do better than other things.

People who’ve read Tara Mohr’s Playing Big know that she talks about a similar concept of “leaps.” These are projects you can try in a two-week time frame that will get you feedback. It’s easy enough to “design at the white board” and have great ideas in your head, but until you see what the world thinks, it’s pretty hard to know the market.

When I interviewed Jenny Blake a few weeks ago, I asked her what sort of career pilot projects she had engaged in recently. She had several (of course!) A career coach herself, she trained several Pivot Method coaches to broaden the scope of people she could reach. She started a podcast — a pilot project that she’s liked so much that it’s become one of her major gigs. She’s also done more random things like learning Spanish so she could work in Argentina for a while next year, and see what comes from having a more international presence.

As I look at my work, I see that I’m naturally engaging in various pilot projects. I test ideas out as blog posts or articles that might later become book fodder. That’s how What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast came to be. While I have my basic time management talk, I’ve been experimenting with some other material within that framework to see what people react to. Reader time-makeovers are about testing the makeover concept, which could go all sorts of different ways (e.g. if I ever do a video series, that is probably what I’d do). I’m learning from various audience engagement activities, such as my time-tracking challenge two weeks ago, or the new weekly newsletter (“A Week’s Worth”). I have no special insight into what people like or don’t like until I put things out there and ask that question.

To be sure, not everything in life needs to be focus group tested. But I’m not really attempting high art here. I’m writing to be useful or pleasurable for an audience of real people with busy lives. Their feedback determines which directions I go.

What sort of career pilot projects have you engaged in? How did they turn out? Did you try anything that didn’t work? (I love the idea of a career book on “windsurfing in Schumpeter’s gale”… but no one else does).

12 thoughts on “Your next career move should be small

  1. As I was reading this, I was thinking about how the internet makes it a lot easier to test drive ideas. The low barriers to entry as far as cost and access to a platform are perfect for floating concepts and product ideas before you really commit.

    1. @Kristen – it totally does. I think in the old days people were taking out ads in the backs of magazines, testing pamphlets on topics that way, or selling things at fairs (or pop up stores) to try concepts. Now the price point is lower and potential markets are bigger.

  2. I guess my career pilot project is blogging and freelance writing. I can do these things while still working my day job. The issue is more with financial viability. It was clear that I enjoyed and was able to do the work within a short amount of time. However, it’s hard to tell even now whether this type of work could ever replace my full-time income. It would be a much bigger commitment to make the full jump to another career – a risk we can’t afford right now. Instead, I’m building something little by little, to fully test drive later.

    1. @Harmony- Side hustles are great pilot projects. Some may never be full time gigs, but could be scaled up or down as necessary. As I’m thinking of it, there could be an interesting post in when is the right time to quit your day job. I had a part-time job for a while during my first few months of “full time” freelancing. I quit when it was quite clear I could make my budget plus savings with writing, and so I suspected that having more time would allow me to do better.

  3. We’ve gone through all of these stages of pilot programs (multiple times) with the development of my business in the last 6 years. From the first book to deciding when my husband should quit his full-time job to join me, each step of the way has been about developing a small something and seeing if it could translate into something viable.

    1. @Calee- so exciting that your husband could join you in the venture. Maybe that’s the second post in my series. The first is on when you can quit your full time job, the second is on when your spouse can!

  4. I did that to get into academia.I kept my hospital gig(I am an occupational therapist). However, I secured an adjunct job at a local community college, which gave me the opportunity to see if I really liked teaching, and experience to make me a viable candidate for a full time academic appointment. It worked out well for me.

  5. When we started Matrix Applied Technologies, we initially thought we would “self-develop” our products. After 8 months of very slow progress and not even a minimum viable product, I decided to switch to an acquisition model. We pitched it to the executives and BOD, and that’s what we ended up doing.

    I always equate planning (strategic, business, or personal), to one of those flight departure boards you see in European airports: the top slot flips over to a new time, and then everything underneath it does to. That’s sort of how things go: a small change on the front end and you have to make a million adjustments (maybe small, maybe large) as a result.

  6. My career over the past couple of years was kind of like this. In 2013, I quit my 30 hours a week tech job to stay home with the kids and also start a client scrapbooking business (thanks Laura). It was all online and startup costs were low. I did that for a while, and then eventually decided that it was causing me more stress than providing a decent income 🙂 In mid 2015, I decided to go back to work, very part-time (<20 hours), doing some freelance contract work for that same tech company. I wanted to see how I felt balancing work and now 2 kids and all the other crafty stuff i like doing. 8 months later, I took another contract for more hours (30-35), and about a year after that, I decided to go back to full time employment on a new team at the same place. None of these moves has been particularly risky and it's sort of like the frog in the pot of boiling water 🙂 I didn't have to make any one big jump to a drastically different work-life integration, but now for the first time in 6 years, I'm working full time hours and it's actually fine 🙂 I personally had a lot of learning to do about the role I want work to play in my life, and how much "guilt" I had over not working "enough" or being ambitious or whatever. Hubby and I constantly evaluate what's working or not and we have a short term view – we can make changes if something isn't working and try it out. Right now we're figuring out whether after school care for an hour is too much for our 4yo as she is a hot cranky mess when she comes home. Next week we'll probably pull her out of it and see if that's any better. I realize we are lucky to have this kind of flexibility due to the industry we're in and where we live (jobs aplenty). It's been such a blessing for us.

  7. I took the time to get comfortable with using an infographic editor, which I used for the interdepartmental reports I was already submitting. That had an unexpectedly huge payoff in terms of getting key points across, as well as making a name for myself across the company.

    I also brushed up on some intermediate Excel skills, and taught a couple of lunch-and-learn classes to any coworkers who were interested. It’s great to have an example of taking a leadership role that I can bring up in interviews.

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