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Simple prescription (too simple?)
on September 6, 2007
Much of Godin's advice makes sense, although it's not especially original. Know when you're going to quit and have an exit strategy. Don't get stuck in a cul-de-sac: a dead end.
Those who focus on a market or skill do reap greater rewards than those who generalize. Among scholars, picking a tiny slice and expanding will reap big rewards. Remove distractions from your life.
Godin's power curves are very convincing. There is a huge difference between Number 1 and Number 2 when you look at ice cream flavors and box office sales. But sometimes a decision to rank lower can be strategic. Some gurus advise against aiming to be Number 1 or 2 on a search engine, because you'll get more tire-kicking clicks.
Much of Godin's advice makes sense for individual as well as corporate career planning. Most careers have dips. Many people find themselves in cul de sacs. What he calls "the cliff" resembles a comfort zone: "The longer you do it, the harder to quit." As a career consultant, I think the cliff is far more common than Godin suggests.
Two problems with this book:
(1) In real life, it's often hard to distinguish between a cul de sac and a dip and careers often morph from one to the other without warning.
In fact, the book's examples inadvertently demonstrate this ambiguity. On page 38, Godin suggests that the helpful mailroom clerk might rise to CEO. On page 62, Doug gets branded because he's been with the company too long: everyone remembers when he started.
We should note that Jeffrey Pfeffer's book, What Were They Thinking, actually contradicts Godin's tips on pages 38-39: Pfeffer suggests that CEO wannabes *not* suck it up but instead stand out. He argues that the behaviors needed to climb to the top are not those needed to succeed once you've arrived, specifically adding that climbers tend to be disliked by their peers along the way.
(2) I almost stopped reading when I read about Hannah, the law student who became a Supreme Court justice presumably because she worked hard and stayed focused. On page 8, Godin writes that any of 42,000 law graduates could have become Supreme Court justices. Hannah worked hard and made sacrifices to reach this goal.
This statement is simply not accurate. A simple Internet search would have revealed the fact that nearly all Supreme Court clerks tend to come from the top 5 or 6 law schools. As recently as 1998, journalists reported that few women and even fewer minorities were chosen. I suspect age makes a difference as well.
(3) This book is a pithy prescription, deliberately simple so as not to obscure the message. But are we better off when those who want to succeed have to jump through artificial hoops? Do the hoops really encourage the best and the brightest? For example, many experts suggest that education courses discourage many potential teachers, who turn to other fields.
Finally, there really is no happily ever after. Sometimes you can work hard, do everything right and get caught up in mergers and events that are completely unrelated to your performance. Other times you make a casual, easy choice because it sounds like fun and you reap major rewards.