The Best Way to Make a Radical Change Mid-Career


So I guess there’s actually two questions there. The first question is: If you’ve plateaued and you genuinely believe you plateaued because your abilities have plateaued, how do you change your abilities? How do you get better at what you’re doing?

One of the things we know about that is radical change is usually necessary, but when we see people, middle-age radically change their abilities it is typically linked to some type of crisis or some type of life event, such as turning 40. Which for many people is something that propels them to a new level… Getting cancer and surviving that changes their attitude towards health and productivity.

So looking for those loadstones and taking advantage of them – no one wants to get cancer, but we all turn forty at some point, most of us. Looking and taking advantage of those loadstone moments is very, very powerful. Now let’s say you have the ability though, you’ve unfairly plateaued. People simply see you as someone who can’t make it to the next level… In that case the question becomes then becomes how do you not change your abilities, but how do you change the perception of your abilities. One of the things that we know is that there is a huge advantage that comes from leaving an established hierarchy.

If you look at most of the people who tend to have unusual success essentially from middle-life on, a huge number of them are people who somehow leap-frogged in establishing hierarchy by opting out of the hierarchy at some point.

A couple of years ago General Electric was asked who are their most successful managers and it turned out their most successful managers were people who were at GE for a while, who had left GE for a while and came back to GE and this is contrary to GE’s culture. There was a feeling that the GE way: the longer you stay, the more political connections you made outside the firm, the better you would do, but that’s actually not true. Those things, learning the GE way, building political connections – that’s relatively easy – it happens kind of quickly, in half a decade or so. Leaving and coming back in allows you to reframe yourself as someone with unique skills as someone who has a competitive advantage. 

The same thing is true I think in a lot of other settings because if people want to rebrand themselves in the eyes of their colleagues, of their superiors, their employees and employers I think you actually need to make a radical choice to rebrand yourself and the data suggests that the easiest way to do that sometimes is to do something completely unexpected. Because then you’re in a class of one and that’s a competitive advantage going forward.

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