Notes by Nero Okwa
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Notes by Nero Okwa

#38. The Career Frameworks that Changed my Life

See what I did there, Career and Life.

We spend so much of our waking moments working that we should give it more than a second thought. After writing the latest article on the Streaming Wars, I had a moment of reflection.

A few friends had mentioned how I seemed to have successfully transitioned across different roles and industries in my career so far.

In the last 7 years, I have worked in Car Manufacturing,Tech, Aviation, Oil and Gas, and Tech again across 😊 employment and entrepreneurship.

Recently, while speaking to a group of MBA students about my career, I realized a lot of the questions they were asking were the same ones I had when I graduated. Yet still no one was giving them the answers, especially for a more uncertain post-pandemic world.

I attempted to address this in Career Advice, but today I would build on this by sharing the frameworks (or ways of thinking) that I use.

Let’s dive in.

Summary

Framework 1: The Hedgehog ConceptFramework 2: Find the fastest train, and get on it Framework 3: Learning or EarningFramework 4: Be Mission-DrivenFramework 5: Role, Culture, and Manager FitFramework 6: Useful Transferable Skills

Framework 1: The Hedgehog Concept

Good to Great by Jim Collins

It was June 2016, I was reading the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, the sequel to one of the most impactful business books of all time: Built to Last, and came across The Hedgehog Concept.

“Are you a hedgehog or a fox?
In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

The Hedgehog Concept is based on an understanding of the intersection of the three circles which are:

1) What you are deeply passionate about,

2) What you can be the best in the world at

3) What best drives your economic or resource engine.

The book explained how companies could transform from good to great by a series of good decisions based on the Hedgehog Concept, but I could instantly see the connection to my personal career decisions.

What am I deeply passionate about? What can I be the best in the world in?

What drives my economic engine?

I didn’t know but I set out to find out.

Thankfully, Jim Collins further explains with a personal analogy:

“Suppose you were able to construct a work life that meets the following three tests.”

“First, you are doing work for which you have a genetic or God-given talent, and perhaps you could become one of the best in the world in applying that talent.(“I feel that I was just born to be doing this”)”

“Second, you are well paid for what you do. (“I get paid to do this? Am I dreaming?”)”

“Third, you are doing work you are passionate about and absolutely love to do, enjoying the actual process for its own sake. (“I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work”) and I really believe in what I’m doing.

“If you could drive toward the intersection of these three circles and translate that intersection into a simple, crystalline concept that guided your life choices, then you’d have a Hedgehog Concept for yourself.”

For example: Armed with this knowledge, I transitioned from working in a startup to working in the Oil and Gas industry. A dream I had always had and my Engineering degree had prepared me for.

Framework 2: Find the fastest train, and get on it

I once heard this line by Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn ‘Find the fastest train and get on it’. It means when making career decisions, find the industry that is growing rapidly and get into it. Currently, one of the fastest trains is Technology.

Getting on the fastest train means you are not in an industry that is declining, which creates the risk of you being commoditized — where there are more than enough people with your skill set.

Like a product, you have to differentiate yourself by having a unique or scarce skill set or stacks of skills. Which means you can charge a premium (higher salary) for your service. Being in a fast growing industry also means access to new learning, R&D, and innovation.

Get on the train.

For example: After I had worked in the Oil and Gas industry for 2.5 years, I did a personal review and realized that I learnt the most and had the most impact when I worked in the startup industry. Also I got user feedback (hence my impact) quicker unlike Oil and Gas projects that had long lead time (in years). This drove my decision to transition back to Tech

The Oil & Gas Years.

Framework 3: Learning or Earning

Whatever job you have, are you Learning or Earning ? You have different options.

Option 1: You are Learning

Option 2: You are Earning

Option 3: You are Learning and Earning

Option 4: You are neither Learning nor Earning

Either option 1 or 2 is ok, option 3 is best, but option 4 is the worst, and you should probably reconsider your role. Investor Garry Tan explains this best:

“Learning is where you want to start, as early as possible and as quickly as possible. It is important to become good at doing things”

He advises you to focus on first learning about yourself(your interests and preferences) and then learning about a particular skill, putting in the 10,000hrs.

As you start learning something and get better, you become more passionate about it. This energizes you to learn more, whilst enjoying the process.

Learn first, then earn, that’s the best strategy, if you do it in reverse you wouldn’t learn as much.

For example: Working at Ford I didn’t ‘earn as much’ as I could elsewhere, but I learnt a lot. I learnt how a big company works, how to interact with different stakeholders like suppliers, and how to be user-centric and data-driven through call center visits and analyzing market data for failed engine parts.

The Ford Years.

Framework 4: Be Mission-Driven

Every time I consider a new role I always ask myself:

What am I trying to achieve in this role?

Am I trying to learn new and interesting things, or have an impact?

Most times it’s both. I’ve realized that my mission is really about having an impact by solving a problem that affects the most people. Solving hard problems often involves acquiring new skills and experiences.

Being mission-driven freed my mind from the thinking that I had to study and practice a particular subject in my work. I chose to study Mechanical Engineering because I wanted to work in the Energy industry, but I was also fascinated by the Automotive industry. Engineering made me believe I could do anything, which I aim to do and keep doing.

I believe the whole point of University is to ‘learn how to learn’ and build social interactions and networks. You then take those skills and networks to succeed in career and life. It should empower you rather than limit you. The World is changing, so you need to change with it.

For example: Working on an aviation startup was because I had experienced the challenges of domestic air travel in Nigeria and Africa. Working in the Oil and Gas industry was because I knew of the impact of energy scarcity on industries, people’s quality of life, and a country’s economy. Contributing to the solutions was my mission.

Framework 5: Role, Culture, and Manager Fit

Lastly, before you join any firm, really consider the role, the culture, and who your manager would be. Is it a good fit?

The interview process is not only about the company deciding if you are the right person for the role, but also about you deciding if the role and company are right for you. This is the part we often fail to consider. We all need the right environment and management to thrive.

For example: I once got a role and realized that the culture was completely opposite to what I value. So I had to make a decision.

Framework 6: Useful Transferable Skills

When speaking to that group of MBA students one of them asked whether I apply to roles that I don’t have a direct experience in. This reminded me of the many times I experienced this or a recruiter tried to fault me because I didn’t have that industry-specific experience.

The short answer is don’t let anyone devalue you and say you can’t do something because you don’t have a certain work experience. You have transferable skills which are valuable.

Besides specialist fields like Medicine, Law, or Architecture which take time to master, you can learn anything if you have the right attitude.

By identifying the transferable skills that are useful and other role-specific skills, you can begin the process of learning. This should demonstrate passion and interest to the recruiter, and if not, maybe you need to consider if that firm is the right fit (see Framework 5).

For example, when I wanted to return back to the tech industry as a product manager, I took a product I loved: Spotify and analyzed it like a product manager, over a series of 7 articles.

Conclusion

Each week we have 168 hours. If we calculate working 7 hours a day for 5 days a week which is 35 hours (about 21%) and sleeping for 8 hours a night for seven days, that leaves us with 77 hours every week. I believe how we spend the 35 hours at work affects how we spend the 77 hours away from work, and determines our life and happiness.

I want to do meaningful work, be inspired, by solving an impactful problem. These are the frameworks that have helped me so far in my journey, and I believe they can help you too.

Find the courage and conviction to decide on what you want out of your life and career, or life will happen outside of your control.

Resources are limited, but your resourcefulness is unlimited.

Good luck!

Thanks for reading and see you next week.

Thanks for reading and see you next week.

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You can catch up with relevant past articles: Career Strategy, Imposter Syndrome, Failing & Still Winning, Choose Yourself I and II, Spotify Series, Strategy Management and Teamwork Series.

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For any questions you can reach me at notesbynero@gmail.com or on LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Nero

Racing Towards Excellence.

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Nero Okwa

Entrepreneur, Product Manager and StoryTeller. In love with Business, Technology, Travel and Africa.