How to Use the Strategy of Choice to Unlock Your Career
Early in my career when I started working within Hewlett-Packard, I noticed that my programming peers were all pursuing new projects by pitching the same kinds of ideas, all programming-heavy — and only a few people were successful. I could see that if I offered a similar idea, I would be just another identical voice in a sea of programmers.
When I saw a different opportunity that would improve the company’s overall efficiency, I chose to enter unfamiliar territory in order to escape the mob mentality and showcase my talents. In basic terms, I updated one of the company’s record-keeping systems to process those records 250 times faster than before. This project required me to cultivate an entirely new skill set, but my hard work paid off: When a large client in London implemented the system I helped to build, I was sent with the installation team as a subject matter expert.
This outcome arose not just from my utilizing resources and adding skills but by my initial choice to act. No matter the field, the strategy of choice is a vital tool that can propel you forward on a new path. Putting this strategy to work begins with four steps.
Rather than setting audacious goals like purchasing a year-long gym membership on the first of January, use simple strategies that enable you to experiment with new ways of behaving, such as resolving to wake up early for the month. These miniature stopping points on the way to a larger goal often yield disproportionately different outcomes.
If I had started my career at Hewlett-Packard with the goal of increasing our processing speed by 250 times, I would have been unlikely to succeed. When I took the small step of proposing a different technical approach, the project realized a large end result. Make a conscious choice not to do what others are doing; instead, choose a small, valuable project that differentiates you from the group.
Build multiple skill sets.
It’s not uncommon for engineers to just, well, engineer — and not think or act beyond that scope. However, the minute you choose to step out of your comfort zone to add new skills, whether it be a new language or a new domain, your capability for success improves exponentially. When I took on the call detail record project at HP, I knew it would require skills that were quite different from those I developed for hardcore programming and coding. I chose to build those new skills in order to solve a problem for my company.
You can build your knowledge base by volunteering for training initiatives or taking on experimental projects that offer opportunities for creative problem-solving or relying on new technology. No matter how you choose to add to your personal toolset, stay open to continuous learning opportunities.
Articulate your biggest ideas.
Professionals often want to hoard their ideas. If they pitch a plan, they want due credit for it. There’s no shortage of ideas; choose to pitch and share your thoughts as much as possible instead of keeping them to yourself, even if they, like my project, involve the hard work necessary to develop new skills. The more often you hone your abilities to look at problems and come up with solutions, the better those solutions will become.
Exercise your problem-solving skills like they are a muscle. Observe which of your ideas work and which don’t; when ideas fail, try to understand why they weren’t successful. Speaking up early and often ensures that you don’t lose the chance to get in a few iterations of solving problems, both on your own and as part of a team.
Eliminate the obvious.
Imagine brainstorming ideas for a new restaurant — but removing food from the equation. If you were to build a restaurant that serves a function beyond just serving food, what would it be? This brainstorming tactic allows you to think beyond the ordinary and get your mental juices flowing.
As an engineer with a desire to prove myself, I needed to bring something to the table beyond typical engineering solutions. If I had continued to pitch programming-oriented projects with the rest of my peers, I wouldn’t have moved forward. I made a conscious decision against fighting the same fight as everyone else. Create a mental environment that allows you to explore new options, use your strengths in new ways, and stand out from the crowd of boring ideas.
Achieving your desired end result, such as a promotion or a new initiative, comes from mobilizing resources appropriately along a plan of action. But neither the resources nor the plan means anything until you’ve chosen to act. The strategy of choice is the key to unlocking your future career.