There’s a deep divide in the tech industry these days. New startups boast the “startup lifestyle,” often have an average age of around 25, and promote fun perks (like kegs in the office) over ones like paternity leave. They tend to work on more “exciting” things. On the other hand are the well-grooved behemoths; the Microsofts of the industry. They promote long-term employees, and forsake some of the more novel things startups promote (like all-night hackathons) for shorter work hours and a life outside the office, but move projects at a slower pace. However, they also work on long-term effect things (new technologies, hardware, software, etc.), while many startups rise and fall with no real sustaining reverberation.
In pursuing the latest and the coolest, young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, the products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests. Without a good router to provide reliable Wi-Fi, your Dropbox file-sharing application is not going to sync; without Nvidia’s graphics processing unit, your BuzzFeed GIF is not going to make anyone laugh. The talent — and there’s a ton of it — flowing into Silicon Valley cares little about improving these infrastructural elements. What they care about is coming up with more web apps. . .
As an enterprise start-up, Meraki has been impeded by its distance from the web scene. It simply does not have the same recognition as a consumer company whose products users (and potential recruits) interact with every day. “You say, ‘I work at Pinterest,’ and people know what that is — they use Pinterest,” Biswas said. “You tell them you work at Meraki, and they’re a little more reserved. They’re like, ‘What’s that?’ Once we explained our culture and our approach, we were able to hire great talent, but it’s always a challenge.” Since the acquisition, Biswas, who is 32, has fought to retain the spirit of the vanguard, but his struggle reveals an implicit fear — that young engineers might be willing to work at Meraki but not at Cisco (because it’s too big and fusty), or that clients might be willing to buy from Cisco but not Meraki (because they don’t really trust start-ups).
It’s easy to see why each side isn’t always appealing to the other. But for a company to be at it’s best, it needs the older, experienced workers working along with the young, passionate ones.
The most innovative and effective companies are old-guard companies that have managed to reach out to the new guard, like Apple, or vice versa, like Google.
In filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide for the Perplexed, he describes his ideation process and how he selects which concept to develop first:
The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence.
When Herzog is overwhelmed with ideas, he selects the concept most avid in his mind. From there he works it until completion before moving on. He describes finishing a project like having a weight lifted from his shoulders. It’s not necessarily happiness, but an ease of ending one thing before starting the next. However your ideas find you, make sure you finish through to completion – whether that means writing it down in a notebook or following it through to realization.
When we see the impressive work of others, it’s tempting to change our game plan to follow theirs in our fear of being left behind. However, Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, has learned that due to unique passions, skills and experience, we each have our own path to follow. Henry advises embracing the motto of one of his runner friends:
…the most important mindset principle for success in competitive running, especially in endurance races, is twofold: stay focused on the ground immediately in front of you, and work your plan.
Don’t sacrifice your drive because you are comparing your work-in-progress with someone else’s finished product. As Henry states, “Run your race. Execute your plan. Do your work, not someone else’s.”
Over at LinkedIn, entrepreneur James Caan gives us five important traits to have if you want to stand out in your career, including:
There is an old saying that says if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards, and this is especially true in career terms. Are you somebody who is happy with your current skill set, or do you actively look to improve? If it is the latter, then you are exactly the sort of person most bosses look for…
There is nothing better for a manager than to see his or her employees actively taking ownership of projects. Equally, nobody wants to be seen as someone who passes the buck. If something falls under your remit, ensure you are the one who sees it through…
By having this ability to reflect – and sometimes criticize yourself – you are making sure lessons are learnt every step of the way.
What each of the traits Caan shares have in common is primarily related to personal drive. Those who are successful in their careers have the momentum to take full accountability and control of their efforts. Though, if they don’t have the momentum they need, they create it through self-reflection and focus.
Research indicates that we defer working on things based on how distant we perceive their deadlines. When we decide that something falls into the “future” category, we simply file it in our “someday” folder and eventually those goals are neglected. Unfortunately, that which is important is often inversely proportional to what’s urgent. To move priorities out of our “someday” folder, Amy Morin suggests imposing what she calls “now” deadlines:
Establish “now” deadlines. Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach – like saving enough money for retirement – you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide “I will create a budget by Thursday,” or “I will lose two pounds in seven days.”
What separates the likes of Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, or Pablo Picasso from the rest of us? Over at Entrepreneur, James Clear argues it comes down to pure grit:
How do creative geniuses come ups with great ideas? They work and edit and rewrite and retry and pull out their genius through sheer force of will and perseverance. They earn the chance to be lucky because they keep showing up…
No single act will uncover more creative powers than forcing yourself to create consistently….For you, it might mean singing a song over and over until it sounds right. Or programming a piece of software until all the bugs are out, taking portraits of your friends until the lighting is perfect, or caring for the customers you serve until you know them better than they know themselves.
It might seem like an unfortunate answer, nobody wants to hear that the best way to do anything is to “work for it,” but the advice also shines as a reminder that genius-level ideas are obtainable, they just take work. Of course, knowing when to quit and when to grit are important as well.
In a time when old institutions are restructuring or collapsing, artist and writer Molly Crabapple urges individuals not to change who they are to be “professionally viable.” There is no longer a system you can enter and be set until retirement. Instead, she suggests creating a career unique to you.
…focus in on your weirdness, your passions, and your f***ed-up damage, and be yourself as truly as you can. Express that with as much craft, discipline, and rigor as you can; work as hard as you can to build a career out of that, and then you’ll create a career that you love and that’s true to yourself, as opposed to doing what you think other people want and burning yourself out when you’re older.
Don’t change who you are to fit the work out there — find that work that fits you.