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December 3, 2009

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Reflections on passion: Don’t let your job get in the way of your career

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“We criticize senior management when they focus only on short-term issues, allowing quarterly results to interfere with longer-term developmental needs. We should be equally tough on ourselves when we allow our jobs to get in the way of our careers.”

- a consulting client quoted on p.25 of

Million Dollar Consulting
Alan Weiss, 2009 (4th ed)

(Disclosure: The book is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

In my two years an at IT specialist / consultant at IBM, I’ve been lucky to have excellent engagements that helped me develop my skills and create real value. I have a great job, and I’m sure it will get even better as I learn how to consciously build a career. What kind of career do I want to grow into?

I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. I want people to be able to contribute their talents from anywhere in the world, and I want to help organizations get better at finding and tapping those skills. I want to reduce the friction in collaboration and make it easier to get leverage on time and effort. I want to increase the serendipitous connections and innovative cross-pollinations that come from diverse conversations. When people can connect with others who are passionate about the work that they do, energy spreads and is reinforced, and people can make things happen faster and more effectively. People are happier, too.

The past two years at IBM have been almost a perfect curriculum for this. I started out by building systems with social components. Then I moved into providing consulting services to our clients, sharing the lessons we’ve learned about strategy and adoption. My current engagement is an even better fit for my passions. Now I’m learning even more about tapping the strength of a global organization, finding experts and resources in response to client needs. I’m not only building training communities and facilitating global conversations, I’m describing how we do this and working on training other people on how to make the most of these social networks.

In addition to that, I’m helping develop leadership training materials around virtual communication and connection. This has multiple benefits. The better we get at leading online through virtual presentations, meetings, and collaboration, the more effectively we can share help our globally distributed workforce develop skills, learn from insights, and create value. The better we understand how to do this, the more we enable people in far-flung places to step up and lead from wherever they are.

It all goes back to that passion: helping people connect and collaborate.

Looking ahead, how do I want to develop this over the next few years? What do I want to grow into once we’ve done the heavy lifting of training a thousand specialists around the world?

I want to figure out how social tools can help us transform our processes and interactions, and what those processes and interactions look like. I’m doing a little of this now, experimenting with and documenting how we use the tools. I can’t wait to see what this will be like years from now, as the tools improve and the culture adapts. I’ll get better and better at seeing patterns, suggesting improvements, documenting practices, helping people change the way they work, and measure the results. I want to create value both inside and outside the company.

I want to not only connect people, but also help other people connect people more effectively. I’m doing a little of this now by directing people to communities and sharing tips on how to reach out, but it would be amazing to help hundreds or thousands of connectors add more tools to their toolbox. It’s like working on the connective tissue of an organization. The better we get at this, the faster and more effectively we can respond to the changing environment.

I want to help people get that Aha! moment. This is why I love learning about communication. Good questions and good explanations open up new horizons of possibilities, simplify complex issues, and energize people. I can get better at this through practice and through learning new skills.

IBM is an excellent laboratory in which to learn about all these things. Even tasks that don’t seem to align with my passion end up being related to it, as I’m good at drawing connections to things I like. If I was forced to do work that drained me and I couldn’t flip it around and figure out the kernel that’s related to my passion, I can see myself exploring this passion independently. After all, you shouldn’t let your job get in the way of your career.

How does your work support your passion? If it doesn’t, what could?

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