Education

Careers are like nature: Only the fittest survive

Ever notice that some people have great careers even though they're not the best at what they do? This week, John M. McKee says that's because they know the most important rule of success. He shares it in this blog.

Recently, an author who's writing a book about how to survive and thrive in a challenging environment asked me for an interview.

Knowing that I speak to a lot of people about careers, he wanted some tips and tactics for his book. I told him that for the most part the majority of career questions come from one of these three key perspectives:

1. The employed -- looking for guidance on things such as:
  • moving up the ladder
  • dealing with a career hiccup that may be holding them back
  • dealing with others in the organization
  • getting a raise
2. The unemployed -- looking for advice about:
  • getting back in the job market
  • taking advantage of social networking
  • setting up a consulting practice
  • rethinking their whole life plan
3. The recently terminated -- in a highly emotional state, they're trying to grapple with:
  • dealing with how getting tanked can impact someone who has always had a job
  • getting through this new and difficult situation

(This is transition coaching. It's all about helping an individual transition out of where he or she is and into where he or she would prefer to be.)

Over the past 15 months, I've had more calls from people in the second and third situations. I'd prefer to be hearing from more of those in the first category above, but the economy is in a bad place and the outlook is pretty grim. It seems likely that many people who are unemployed currently are going to continue in that place for a while.
Here's the best advice I can give any individual who's in any of those situations -- What got you here, may not get you there.
If you want a long and productive career, keep that advice first and foremost in your mind. If you're unemployed, give it a lot of thought before you dive into the next job.

  1. The most successful careerists realize that it's all about evolution. Like animals in the wild -- even entire species -- it's survival of the fittest.
  2. Industries start, grow, thrive, get old, and usually then disappear. It's the same thing with companies.
  3. Careers that are too dependent on the success of the industry or company are at risk.
Those who have the longest and most satisfying careers share a common realization that their success has a great deal to do with keeping a close eye on the environment. Whether it's the economy, the city they live in, or the company they work for.
As the world around you changes, or the business environments change, or the people making the decisions move on, it's time to make a decision. Is your plan still smart for the long term? Most people continue as if little is really changing. They're kind of "managing by crossed fingers" and hoping they'll be OK. Not a good plan.
In nature and in business those who adapt and make changes will survive. The rest, even though they may be great at what they're doing, don't survive.
Here's to your future....

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

28 comments
fhrivers
fhrivers

Worry about the former and you won't have to worry about the latter. I'm at my third company in less than one year. I left the first because I was under employed, got layed off from the second and for now I'm happily employed in the latter. One factor that helped me is the attitude that I'm working on getting my next job. I'm always updating my technical skills and improving my soft skills. I'm always working on my career as I perform my duties. More people need to be worried about career security as staying at the same employer until you retire is a pipe dream.

seanferd
seanferd

It was a newspaper's sound-bite referring to natural selection, which is far more complex than "survival of the fittest". Every species would consist of a handful of organisms at most, then they would all die out due to lack of diversity. "Survival of the fittest" never happens. So, quit applying human social and economic metaphors to nature, and quit applying poor misunderstandings of the facts and theories of nature to human competition. "Social Darwinism" is bunk.

Professor8
Professor8

"Ever notice that some people have great careers even though they???re not the best at what they do?" Yes, most STEM workers are big believers in meritocracy. We believe that if you're the sharpest, if you produce the most of what is of high quality, you should get the promotions and raises. B-school bozos have a totally different POV. They put a lot more weight on appearances and how you say things, than the essentials of what you say and what you do. Their ethics, such as they are, are a lot more "flexible". If it gives them more power or money or fame or whatever floats their boat, they'll go ahead and do it (or try to get others to do it for them), even if it is totally unetical or even illegal. When confronted with the statute forbidding it, they'll try to redefine the words, insist that it does not say what it does. They frequently heap great praise on STEM workers for minor, off-hand feats, and fail to recognize or reward great achievements, which serves only to disgust STEM workers. We have totally different priorities and value systems. "In both a great job market, or a tough one, simply doing more of what you're already doing isn't likely to move you forward / faster." OTOH, being told to do things which are impossible in your financial, etc., circumstances, is not going to be productive, either.* However, doing something which moves you toward an intermediate goal may (may!) get you there eventually if you maintain your enthusiasm, industriousness, creativity... * E.g. Telling people with little money and no car to galavant around to various cities for drop-in (or "I'll be visiting your town, and would like to stop by...") interviews, or to attend "networking events", as some have advised, is a no-starter. When all you have is a computer and network connection, that's what you're going to be able to use.

RW17
RW17

Banking Information Systems are supposed to be the (relatively) new hot industry for my implementations line of work. However, I live in North America... - The rest of the world blames US Banks for the current depression (I don't know why we continue to call this a recession... even the Great Depression didn't last this long). This is not good for IS implementation sales. - The US government is about to sue the large American banks for their part in the "depression". This cannot be good for IS implementation sales. - The Canadian Banks are waiting to see what happens with the economy in the US. Sure, the Cdn banks are comparatively sound... but not if the USA goes bankrupt... or even comes close to bankrupt. A "run" in the USA is effectively a "run" for the world... and especially Canada. So, to survive, do I relocate to where banking projects are happening? Let's see...: - There's plenty starting up in South America... but our North American rates don't translate well for their projects. How can a North American move to South America to make one-quarter of his / her previous salary doing the same work, and ever expect to be able to return one day? - There's possibilities for the UK... maybe, but are they in any better of situation than North America? Again, they are tied to the US like siamese twins, and their economy is as shaky, and as threatened by social upheaval as any other first world country. - What about Europe? Sure, relocate there... and Greece defaults, causing another chain-reaction that cripples the EU for years to come. Does it sound like a good environment for new banking projects now to you? It sure does not sound anywhere remotely stable to me. - The rest of the world... well, I do not speak Chinese... though I might have to "evolve". - Australia - maybe... but is it more economically stable, really, or is it just not being discussed because focus is always on America and the EU in our media? So, should I learn to shine shoes? Banking IS Implementations is my concern, but name an industry that is not in a state of utter distress... oh, yes, bankruptcy lawyers are doing well... so realistically, when you say "evolve", I say give me an example of where to evolve to in the current world!

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

In both a great job market, or a tough one, simply doing more of what you're already doing isn't likely to move you forward / faster.

mkogrady
mkogrady

- staying technically current, improving your people skills, and working the pipeline of projects typically gets you moved up. As for cradle to grave employment, that's been gone for a while - besides who really wants to hit the same button day in and day out for 35+ years? I think most younger employees will learn to move around and enjoy careers with many companies as long as they stay relevent.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

with a certain bias towards individuals with genetic properties more well in tune with the environment presently suffered by said species. Doesn't roll off the tongue so well ;)

tbmay
tbmay

....be the way you get ahead. If you're just fine with lies and backstabbing, you do stand a good chance of getting ahead in the corporate world. Of course, you will have God to deal with.....that's probably not going to be too fun. But hey, get what you can get now.

santeewelding
santeewelding

"Survival of the fittest" is probably so thoroughly integrated into common psyche as to serve as an undercarriage. Ask me. I get nowhere with that undercarriage known as, common reason. But, don't quit. I won't, either.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

I believe in merit-based raises. But, and this makes the news all the time, too many articles on job losses, doing more work for less pay, etc, are suggesting that the B-school bozos are in charge...

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

That doesn't spell difficulty, that spells O.p.p.o.r.t.u.n.i.t.y! We will need a new kind of bank. Whoever gets the recipe right will be a superstar. Whoever gets on the wagon fast enough will be set up for life (or until the next greed-born crisis).

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

I suggest that you give some consideration to, "who you are". For example, are you an IT expert in the banking sector, or a bank industry person who happens to be in IT. Next question to ask yourself is what you really want to be doing. Most studies affirm that individuals who are doing something they love are most likely to have a satisfying career. But if we don't like what we're doing it's hard to get satisfied - regardless of industry, title or compensation. - John

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

once they get over the billion mark in terms of losses. Quite topical at the moment that... You could enhance it in version two and make the limit an auditable parameter...... Banks aren't going away, they've got all our money, real or not.... If you are looking for a growth industry, debt management and or creative book keeping will be good bets.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

1. truisms are bogus 2. there's the exception to that rule (except for that rule and the other one about truisms being bogus) 3. one can know and do everything, but if somebody cheaper comes along, it's the "profit potential" that managers want.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

to deal with, then you believe in Him, and therefore you will be redeemed. Putting some of your illgotten gains into the next collection plate might get one of his pistols to put a good word in for you as well. Mind you can you believe in any Darwinism and Him at the same time...

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

'unifying metaphor'. It condenses a set of assumptions that inform a zeitgeist into a handy phrase or image....

RW17
RW17

Well, hopefully any new CRM / AO system attached to the being-implemented Banking IS will have separation of Customers by such categorizations. From VIP, to Regular, to Low-Value, to Employee, to... etc, these must all be set up. After all, different product pricing, different Foreign Exchange rates, different posting locks, etc etc will likely all be based on customer categories (in combination with numerous other factors). Indeed, Banks are not going away. However, the banking world is taking a bashing right now in terms of blame for the depression. And, really, who can blame public opinion for that lately with all the news on certain major banks?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

to predict which employees are pushing the limits, BEFORE losses are actualized. Computer Assisted Risk Plotting = CARP or Risk Accumulation Tracker = RAT The symbols should appeal to the Chinese as well.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

Drug cartels from the Zetas to Merck need their $ laundered.......

santeewelding
santeewelding

Linking a naughty word with the_underline apparently no longer works. It's like this: your phrase is derivative...the base is, "Hooray for me and fluck you."

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

the real phrase it covers for is "Survival of the Me'est".

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

We've been spelling banker with a W for decades... As far as I understand it current systems should have spotted the latest employee of the month example as well. The thing is, what would they have spotted, not like you or I nipping out to the races with the petty cash box is it? If his horse had come in, nobody would have been talking about tightening up the IS...

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

So they don't think about what they do at all, looking only at the next morsel? We so need a new, more devious bank. A Cutthroat Pirate Bank!!!

RW17
RW17

... most of the followers tread in the foot-steps of the "leaders", rather than hedging against them. After all, with executives so heavily rewarded for focus on the next quarter rather than the long term, it's simply the ever-present case of "you are paid to do what you are told... not what you might think is right". Thus, there appears to be little difference in the underlying orders of the minions and executives alike today. With Board pressures to match profits to competitors and match share earnings, and industry experts absolutely comparing based on such measures in a never-ending barage of media, what would you do? Follow in the foot-steps until it busts (where everyone is once again in the same boat), or bet your career on being a rebel? :-)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Anything less is gross incompetence. The banks will have to wise up... if the other bank is doing something crazy, don't jump on the bandwagon, hedge against it. Pessimists (read: people with normal perception of reality) actually made a bundle by hedging against the latest fiasco. As long as half the banks choose to hedge against the other banks' greedball ideas, the market should become a lot more stable. They wont all fall over at the same time. Volatile, sure - but somewhat self-balancing too.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

if he'd have got it right, he would have been lauded as a genius. If it's not prohibited, it's allowed....