No plan? No problem

This month I’ve been reading about two very different, but successful men with something rather startling in common.

The first, Ian C. Rogers is the uber cool CEO of Topspin Media. Rogers is considered to be one of the most influential media innovators in the music industry hanging with rock royalty like the Beastie Boys and the Pixies. He was in the first wave of early adopters who saw the potential for web based music platforms long before Steve Jobs conceived of iTunes.

The second, Paul O’Grady is an award winning comedian back in his native England with a prime time chat show, a weekly radio program and various high profile theater credits under his belt.

The American innovator and the British drag queen: what, I hear you ask, could they possibly have in common? Well, the first thing is their success; both men are well respected, often consulted and regularly recognized by peers for excellence in their field. The second; they both worked from the roots up to achieve success. Rogers became a dad at the tender age of 17 whilst in community college, O’Grady was 19 when his daughter arrived and never quite made it to college leaving school at age 16. And finally? Despite scaling to the competitive tops of their respective professions, neither man had a career plan. Yep, you read it right, despite being massively successful professionally both O’Grady and Rogers openly admit that they didn’t set out on their career paths with a big strategy in mind, a revelation that is just fascinating to a coach like me with a focus on career planning and leadership development. All the management texts and self-anointed career experts bombard us with warnings about the dangers of navigating without a plan, we’ve all read quotes telling us that failing to plan means we are planning to fail, so how did O’Grady and Rogers get it so right despite supposedly doing it so wrong?

Well first, they did what I consider to be the cornerstone of career happiness- they figured out their passions and found ways to pursue them- Rogers put together a fan website for the Beastie Boys in his spare time- a hobby that landed him a spot on their creative team and fostered a life-long collaboration with the band. O’Grady performed as his drag alter ego ‘Lilly Savage’ on the pub and club circuit in the UK after he’d closed the door on his day job working for a local government office, building a fan base and profile that finally lead to him to go pro in the 1980s.

Second, they were able to differentiate between what Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen calls ‘emergent’ and ‘deliberate’ strategy. Christensen defines emergent strategies as those evolving out of our exposure to new ideas, unplanned situations and new challenges. He defines deliberate strategy as our ability to use those experiences and the learning we have from them to figure out where we want to go next in a more thoughtful and planned way. Rogers used his learning helping the Beasties Boys connect directly with fans as the foundation to launch Topspin media, a firm that aims to connect artists directly to fans without the interference of a record company. O’Grady used his learning to establish a safe alter ego who could publicly address the misrepresentation of the LGBT community in the media, especially during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the mid-80’s, in a direct yet non-threatening way.

So as you are thinking about your next career move, whether internal or external, think about your passions and how they can inform your decision making. Are you a Zen princess yogi warrior on the weekend? Figure out how you can bring that Zen learning into your work to soothe tough team members. Do you travel the world as a photographer in your spare time? What new opportunities in the workplace can your keen eye spot to help you work smarter?

I hope you have fun with the concepts of emergent and deliberate strategy. If you would like to delve deeper, I’d recommend Christensen’s 2012 book ‘How Will You Measure Your Life’ to help you on the way- enjoy!