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Is your career Agile?

Thinking about how you can use Agile principals to maximise your career

The problem with goals

If you’ve never been one to set yourself specific goals, but want to be successful I have, what I believe, is a better way for you.

Today I was on LinkedIn and there was an influencer post about ‘not wasting mentors time’. It said in order to get the most out of your mentor you need to have set your personal goals first. I’ve always heard it banded around that you should set goals. But this particular post ruffled my feathers because as a mentor I had never once set myself personal goals or demanded it of my students. I also have a particular disdain for the interview question “Where do you see yourself in 1,5 and 10 years time” for the same reasons.

Goals are waterfall

I’ve seen people set goals and doggedly work to achieve those, without a hope of ever achieving them. Sure some might, but none I’ve anecdotally observed. Yet I’ve seen many people succeed, they are winning at life. These people had no idea they would make it or how they were going to get there. But that didn’t mean they weren’t motivated. Many people put down failing at your life goals as a lack of motivations, I see it as a problem of stubbornness.

Setting the goal first and working back from there is waterfall, you spec out what you need to do in order to achieve your goal and every single detail cascades down. What is particularly painful to observe is having studied, or climbed a ladder for X number of years doing stuff you probably hated in order to get there you realise actually this isn’t what you wanted.

Set yourself objectives

Set your objectives like great organisations write vision statements, the ones that can never be fully realised. Google wanted to organise the world’s data, CareerBuilder wanted to organise the worlds human capital data and Addidas they want to organise the… Nah they just want to be the best, but writing good mission statements I’ll save for another time.

If you set good objectives that are infinite you will forever be motivated to strive onwards and your path is never articulated by the goal.

Goal: Get a 2:1 degree in computing at MIT.

 The goal, once it is done it’s over, then what?

Bad objective: Be the largest shoe trader in the world

The bad objective, once you are at the top you have no more motivation.

Good objective: Improve the well being of patients in palliative care

The good objective is a never-ending mission, often some sort of social justice/good is associated with it. The reward for working towards it is a personal inward sacrament.

Be Agile in your career choices

If I had set myself waterfall goals I would have never been a UX consultant, in fact, nobody would have been because it wasn’t a formal role for many years. Perhaps if I was a pioneer I would of invented UX, but I won’t kid myself and say I have that caliber of human thought available to me.

Have retros with yourself

Only through regular stock-taking of my career and the opportunities to learn, develop and progress was I able to develop my expertise. At every junction in life I considered where I was and what was the next best opportunity in front of me. What could I learn that would contribute to what I had already done previously.

The art of work not done

You think the art of work not done can’t be applied to your career? I found having to prioritise what to learn and how much effort to learn certain things was crucial in my development and I can learn from the choices I made to make better decisions about what to do and what not to do in the future. For example, I made the decision not to learn flash and instead focus on HTML/CSS but not JS. I learned that avoiding something merely because it was hard (JS) was not the same as avoiding to learn something because you thought it sucked (Flash).

Be Motivated

I’m cross-functional, it’s not a coincidence but Agile dictates that you deliver working software, or in a career context valuable outputs for the organisation. My role merely informed people of my specialty but my goal was always to be effective in the teams I worked within to deliver the optimum outcomes.

It’s about being motivated even if you don’t know exactly where you are going, by applying yourself all the time opportunities will eventually present themselves and you need to know when to take them.

Keep your cycles short

Mums are a great source of advice, Cliff Sexton’s mum told him and he told me that when you ever stop feeling challenged in your work its time to find another challenge. I’ve never stayed anywhere too long. 2 years, not 2 weeks seems to be optimum for me. I can keep in a state of flow for most of that but then drop off as the challenge is no longer a challenge. It’s about 2 years short of the 10,000 hours some might say is the time it takes to become truly expert. But as someone who is cross-functional and generalist perhaps I am measuring the wrong thing here.


This probably isn’t for everyone or all situations. Sometimes you need explicit goals. For example, in order to improve my health I absolutely had to quit smoking. For some people the tanigble goal of achieving X is how they motivate themselves.