There’s probably another huge thought bubble floating over your head at this point that says something along the lines of: “Back to me: this is all well and good, but how does all this work in practice?” Let’s put some of this in perspective for you, how to go about managing your career and understanding what makes people at IDEO successful.
There is no single career journey at IDEO: there are many, and they are varied. That is what makes it so exciting and a little daunting to work here. Talk to people around you and you will see geographic, content and role shifts in abundance, and the thing that connects them all is that people have followed their passions, and wherever possible we have tried hard to match that with dynamic possibilities.
Think of career trajectories like this at IDEO: it is less like the children’s game of Snakes & Ladders - a linear, climb-up-the-snake and fall-down-the-ladder kind of place, but instead, more of a gentle and winding path through a slightly misty garden – sometimes you can see ahead, sometimes not. But you should enjoy the meander, celebrate the journey, and above all, feel like you are in control.
By now it’s fairly obvious that we are a loosely designed organization, just enough design to enable us to evolve, not too much that it gets in our way. We aspire to be a great meritocracy across IDEO so we have a global point of view, allowing us to be fair across the globe. But one thing is true, above all else, a sense of personal progression is important to you, and equally important to us, and managing that progress as increasing numbers of people move from one location to another so their career can seamlessly be transported is critical.
It’s hard for a complex and fluid an organization as we are to create a simple navigation system, which allows us all to benchmark ourselves against our peers, balancing, as we must, a sense of individualism on one hand and collectivism on the other. One framework we are using (think of them as three signposts that say “This Way”) is actually a set of natural and organic modes for creative people to operate under – Learning, Fluency, and Teaching. Let us explain.
We’ve all been there. The apprentice. You’re new to it. Or to us. Or it to you. Good news – there’s no shortage of teachers at IDEO, of people that want to help you become engaged, learn new skills, and simply allow you the luxury of taking the necessary time to become excellent at what you do.
Once you know what you need to know, you can spend your time to refine it, hone your craft and become a virtuoso in whatever core discipline you operate under, as well as helping broaden the cross-stroke of your own individual T, and bring that out in others.
Very “Kung Fu” this one. You are now not the Grasshopper, but the Master, teaching your wisdom, and more importantly, being sought out by others, keen to learn from you. Many people can proclaim to be teachers, but it is not until the pupil appears, right?
Above all, IDEO is a relationship-based, discursive organization, so the content in your IDEO Journey only comes to life once it is lifted from the page and informs great conversations with others you have worked with and between you and your business leads. It is critical to show up to these conversations having reflected on how things have gone, and how you would like them to go moving ahead; being both honestly backward looking and optimistically forward looking is how great careers are made around here.
And a note on business leads: it is worth noting that leadership is widely distributed in IDEO. If you are new, for a while you will be allocated a business lead. Once you have been around a while, you get to choose your business lead. The role of a business lead is to help shepherd you through the process we just outlined – helping gather feedback, direct you towards people and projects that can support your goals, and generally help turn you from Grasshopper to Master.
Leaders across IDEO are constantly triangulating three questions. Firstly, what are the individual’s needs and how do we enable them? Secondly: What are the location’s needs and how do we support them? And finally: What are our global needs and how do we deliver upon them? Good decisions need to strike a healthy balance between multiple contexts, and that is what all IDEO leaders aim to do.
Many people have done plenty of formal development by the time they get to IDEO but there are still options for those at different stages of their careers. One common thing we all seem to thrive on is to “learn by doing”, so it makes perfect sense that projects will always be our core learning and development ground. But we are open to many other ways: for example, many people in IDEO love to teach outside IDEO, something we wholeheartedly encourage - our people learn a lot through teaching and also give a lot. Over the years, we have forged strong relationships with academic institutions across the globe: giving back to receive is a very IDEO trait, one that has positive benefits all round.
Do I actually get paid for all this goodness? we hear you ask. Of course you do, and we are as transparent about our salary system as we can be without it being scary or counterproductive. One really important thing to us has always been the cultural value of commerce, meaning that we try wherever possible for everyone to benefit equally from everyone’s goodwill and hard work. One example is our global bonus scheme, where twice a year we roll up the profit from across the entire firm and give a bit back to everyone. We do this globally as opposed to creating location-based incentives because we want to promote the important cultural value of collaboration over that of competition.
The Burning Question and the one that we all ask when we join – how will I know that I am being successful? Only one thing matters, really, and that is doing really great work. The best work of your life, actually. And only one thing truly travels through the organization, both upward and downward – and that is great content. No amount of hand-waving or shouting will get you seen, in fact it may distract, but you can be sure that great work triumphs every time.