Hockey great Wayne Gretzsky was once asked what differentiated him from other professional players.
"Others look at where the puck is. I look at where the puck is going." Gretzsky's perspective is worth remembering when looking at opportunities.
Let's examine one sphere of professional life: job search.
Spending time staring at your computer screen for jobs is like skating to where the puck is at a hockey game:
Your competitors are looking at the same job at the same time. When you respond, you are one of hundreds of resumes on a recruiter's screen.
In hockey, a puck on the ice does not remain stationary for long. Available jobs do not remain unfilled. An opportunity may appear "fresh" when looking at the date that it was posted on the Internet. But the opportunity may already be "stale." For example, at my firm we sometimes advertise on the web for candidates for jobs we are seeking to fill on a retained search basis. When we post the ad we are seeking to create a second or third tier candidate pool. The first tier candidate pool has already been found by us through our own networks and referrals from our networks. We are seeking to find another pool in the event all the candidates we present are rejected. You think the job is "fresh" but it is "stale." The puck has moved by the time you spot it.
Job Searching in a Three-Dimensional World
Looking at ads is an example of "linear thinking." It is the type of thinking most often taught in school: take x courses and score a grade of y and you will achieve z diploma. And having z diploma will result in XYZ job. The world of management self-help books often has a linear logic behind it: adopt these seven habits and you too will be successful.
We don't live in a linear world. We live in a three dimensional word that is linear, non linear, and random all at the same time.
A non-linear event operates within fuzzy boundaries. For example, you attend professional association cocktail parties in the hopes of meeting someone who will steer you to a great job opportunity. Ten times you go to the event and come up empty-handed. And on the eleventh time you strike gold.
Conducting an aggressive direct mail campaign using snail mail is an exercise in nonlinear thinking; you send our letters to three hundred companies and hope that three companies ask you in for an interview. And you have no clue which three companies will be positive.
Job search within the nonlinear dimension is skating away from where the puck is to where you suspect it might be.
Managing Randomness in Your Professional Life
Nonlinear logic has a fuzzy logic. But the random dimension has no logic at all. The idea that we live in a random world can be a disturbing idea for some people. But how many of us have had life changing events that took place by random?
It is a paradox, but you can manage random events to some degree.
For example, we recommend that job candidates randomly "spin dial" their electronic address books and call the person whose name appears. We call it "Spin the Dial for Dollars."
We tell our clients to say, "Just thinking about you and called to say 'how are you?'"
At Stybel Peabody we manage random events with techniques like this. We have been delighted with the number of responses that begin with, "It's amazing that you should call. How did you know we have a need for your services right now?"
In hockey, a random approach is skating around the rink and waiting to pounce for the right opening.
A Thre-Dimensional Approach to Managing Your Job Search
Skating to where the puck is going requires giving up the illusion of living in a linear world. Grasp the implications of structuring your professional life along a three dimensional framework of linear, non-linear, and randomness.
Larry Stybel received his doctorate in organization behavior from Harvard University and is co-founder of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, a talent management company with offices in 31 countries. He also is Executive in Residence at the Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University in Boston. You can reach Larry at linkedin.com/in/lstybel or twitter at lstybel. His website is stybelpeabody.com