February 12, 2014

From a Money Magazine interview with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and reported by CNN, we find our first definition:

You apply a lot of business-school thinking to life. What’s one example?

“In organizations, once you articulate how success will be measured, everybody tries to game the system so that they are measured in the best possible way. If you judge schools based on test scores, every school will start teaching to the test. The whole organization optimizes on a yardstick, very often to the long-term detriment of that organization.

So individually we need to think very carefully about how we measure our life. . . .”

How should a person be measuring his or her career?

“You want to be in a job where you’re motivated.

There’s a theory that was articulated by the late psychologist Frederick Herzberg. He makes a strong point that there’s a big difference between motivation and incentives. An incentive is, “I will pay you to want what I want.” Motivation means that you’ve got an engine inside of you that drives you to keep working in order to feel successful and to help the organization be successful. It causes you to keep at it through thick and thin.

Motivators are things like, “I have the opportunity to achieve important things,” “I get recognized for my achievements,” “I learn ways to be better,” and “I’m an important part of a team.” If you have those kinds of experiences every day, you’re motivated, and you’ll be satisfied.

Many of the factors that we think will cause motivation, such as fair pay and a good manager, won’t make you love your job. Even if you eliminate what makes you dissatisfied, that doesn’t make you motivated. It doesn’t make your work rewarding. You just are less bothered by things. . . .”

And yet, in opposition to Christensen’s definition, The “Harvard Alumni Magazine” recently published information on their graduates that should call into question some of the values we are teaching our kids.

“Among those who graduated around 1970, 22 percent of the men were in finance or management 15 years later. Among those who graduated around 1990, the figure was 38 percent. The proportion of male graduates working in finance alone increased from 5 percent to 15 percent in the same period. And a “Harvard Crimson” survey last year found that among graduating seniors heading straight to work — roughly three-quarters of the class of 2007 — 58 percent of the men were headed for finance or consulting, and more than 20% of all men for investment banks.”

And, why? Well, “. . . the median income for (the graduating) men was $162,000 . . .” while “. . . the graduates in finance earned nearly three times that median . . . “

Unfortunately, for more and more of our young people, “success” is being defined as annual income — and the resulting inference has become, “the more you earn, the more ‘successful’ you are.”

Combined with a greater and greater emphasis on hiring only those individuals who have a college degree, attitudes are changing — and, not for the better.

There is no correlation between “smart” and “great grades.” There is no correlation between “success” and “earned income.” Americans used to understand this. The respect we had for people who work “successfully” with their hands was equal to whatever academic achievement one might attain.

Gifted carpenters, farmers, auto mechanics, and factory workers (for example) were considered “smart,” “successful,” and commanded our respect alongside those who excelled with their PhDs in science, medicine and mathematics. (Today, with the never-ending flood of PhDs in every imaginable discipline, the degree itself is devalued.)

In my own experience, I’ve known “smart” and “successful” individuals in almost every line of work — individuals who worked so brilliantly with their hands and/or their head. Their work ethic distinguished them and they contributed to America’s quality of life in so many meaningful ways.

Two of the three most “successful” VPs I employed at ITC did not have college degrees. One had gone from high school directly into hardhat employment. The other had gone directly into the U. S. Navy and, after that, the blue-collar world. I was lucky to have found them. They each supplied their unique and valuable talents to building a company, leading large groups of people, and establishing long-term relationships with many Fortune 1000 customers. They were immensely “successful” people! And, boy, were they “smart!” One is retired today and travels the country in a motor home visiting national and state parks. (And, incidentally, he can readily fix anything that goes wrong with his vehicle — “smarts” that totally escape me.) The other is a retired “successful” sales executive.

Unfortunately, each of them told me years ago that without the opportunity given them by ITC they would have been dead-ended as their former employers did not promote individuals without college degrees.

What a shame! What a waste!

On another personal note, “Success” often makes me think of a niece who has spent the first thirty years of her adult life serving the hungry and shelterless people her organization encounters — first in Nebraska and today in the State of Washington. The pay may not be much but few individuals will ever enjoy the “Success” she does.

We should re-open our eyes. “Success” is not a function of how much one makes or how many degrees one has. “Success” is leading the way in a profession of choice — doubly so if, along the way, contributions to society is a direct result of one’s “smarts” and “skills.”

More on Monday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning