When Personal Meets Professional

Over lunch with my good friend, Jeremy, we discussed the need for a “two-pronged life.” We riffed on how often we need to find a balance between two sides, two hemispheres, two components, two functions, such as the rational and emotional. And, as is my wont, I like to look at the personal-professional continuum. Our solemn conclusion was that to be complete, you have to have a personal and professional project. Being the CEO of an organization without the development and fulfilment of a personal passion is tantamount to a plant without water.

Head and Heart….

These are the associated terms that typically come up in pairs:

Rational: the head, thinking, scientific, logical, details, analytical, technology, yang and “left brain”

Emotional: the heart, feeling, intuitive, random, holistic, empathetic, creative, yin, and “right brain”

They all speak to the notion brilliantly (and simply) explained by Dan Pink in “The Whole New Mind” about how we need to insert more “emotion” (and other qualities therein) into the workspace.

personal professional myndset

When Balance = Compromise?

But, have you ever had to answer the question: Is it better to be a jack of all trades or a master of one?

To be the preeminent expert in a field usually requires such a dedication that it precludes the option of enjoying and exploring other fields or areas. Doesn’t a jack of all trades just mean he/she is mediocre at everything? With such a balanced approach, are we not compromising on quality?

personal professional t shapedMy father long ago told me that it is best to be a jack of all trades and master of one. It’s an expression that stuck with me. The ability to be curious and interested in a wide array of topics is highly stimulating, not to mention being useful in a fast changing world. This would be called being T-shaped, where you go deep in just a single field.

There is a growing wave of thought that people need to be at least Pi-shaped (two expertises) or even comb-shaped (multiple)… Ultimately, though it is unreasonable to aim for being the expert in many fields. Yet, there is a burgeoning need to have deeper roots in multiple areas to deal with today’s complexities and novelties. To mix the metaphor: we need to have fingers in multiple pies!

personal professional - pi shaped

Underlying images from http://irisclasson.com/2013/07/08/stupid-question-218-what-are-t-shaped-pi-shaped-and-comb-shaped-skills-and-which-one-should-i-aim-for/

One of the strategic challenges on an individual and organizational level is to know which skills one should work on to go deeper? What are the best combinations of skills? In any event, to my understanding, one of the requisites is to have the right mindset to accompany these skills, such as being in the mode of continuous learning, open to collaboration and accepting of failure.

One of the considerations I had, in my lunch with Jeremy, was that I fully subscribe to having at least two passions or expertises (pi-shaped). It makes life fuller and your profile more attractive for a more enduring career. However, my standout thought is that at least one of those expertises should be personal in nature in order to heighten fulfilment. Whenever I have met a top executive who has (and likes to talk about) a personal passion, he/she inevitably seems a more authentic and complete person. Wouldn’t you agree?

Boiling it down

Making the right strategic choices and saying “no” are certainly two of the basic skills to master. If the word focus is one of the bugbears of any business, it’s nonetheless true that we live in a complex world AND have many new choices to integrate into our standard operating procedure. I’ve often described it as being an “AND WORLD”, where we have to add in new technologies, platforms and devices to a legacy system and/or mindset. It’s not about one or the other; it’s about one and the other , and finding the best combination for one’s stated objectives. We are indeed operating in a world where we are faced with making tough choices. To help make these decisions, it is about boiling everything down to a simple expression (or one’s NORTH, as I have written in the past) that helps to guide the selection. The caveat is not to render all decisions purely “logical” and “rational.” Even in the business environment, we must find a way to mix and marry personal and professional passions.

As I like to say:

Happy to hear your reactions!

2 thoughts on “When Personal Meets Professional

  1. Very interesting. Reminds me of an Alvin Toffler quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” When it comes to expertise, I think of the conversations or meetings when you think, “I wish (X) was here” – that go-to person on that particular subject where you feel almost physically more comfortable knowing they’re there. I think each of us should be ‘that’ person in a one (or two) areas of knowledge. But back to the Toffler quote, even when we’re experts, we have to stay nimble and remain an avid student.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.