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The Career Catapult: Shake-up the Status Quo and Boost Your Professional Trajectory

The Career Catapult: Shake-up the Status Quo and Boost Your Professional Trajectory

by Roopa Unnikrishnan

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We live in an evolving economic environment, one in which job security and career certainty are distant memories. The old rules for navigating the turbulent waters of employment just don't apply anymore. In the face of these ongoing changes, it's easy to become fearful and discouraged.

In The Career Catapult, innovative career consultant Roopa Unnikrishnan shows you how to gaze into this uncertain future and shape it to your advantage—regardless of your current position in the job hierarchy.

Leaping into a revised career trajectory requires quick and purposeful movement. In The Career Catapult, Roopa offers five essential disciplines that will catapult you along the fast track:
  • Dig Deep to Soar: Examine your skills and resources to accurately assess your marketplace value.
  • Stalk Innovations and Trends: Explore the context in which you can offer your value.
  • Jolt Your Network: Use your assets, including networks that can drive significant value.
  • Prototype Possibilities: Free yourself to imagine. Visualize the full array of possibilities and test-drive them. Find ways to don the mantle of the new role
  • Go Extreme: Is your desired future achievable? Yes! Take that confident leap into your future.

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    Product Details

    ISBN-13: 9781632650849
    Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
    Publication date: 03/20/2017
    Edition description: First Edition
    Pages: 240
    Sales rank: 690,102
    Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

    About the Author

    Roopa Unnikrishnan has spent two decades in roles where she has seeded and driven change and innovation in several Fortune 500 companies. She is a former vice president of corporate strategy and global head of worldwide talent at Pfizer, with previous positions at Blackrock and Citibank. A master coach, she now works with senior executives to drive personal and career change, and with a variety of consumer goods, education, and technology companies to improve their strategic planning and idea development. A Rhodes Scholar with a master's degree in philosophy and an MBA from the University of Oxford, Roopa is also a published poet and world-class athlete in sports riflery.

    Read an Excerpt


    Why a Career Catapult? Design Your Own Destiny

    This isn't a book about luck; it's a book about making the most of what the world throws at you. There are circumstances in life that only a shock can free you from: the relationship that hasn't been going anywhere for far too long; the 20 extra pounds you put on when you quit smoking five years ago; the half-finished manuscript of your novel stuffed into the desk drawer; your dream of exotic travel stuffed into the other desk drawer. When good intentions, willpower, or reminding yourself that "life is short" aren't enough to thrust you out of whatever stagnation or complacency you're in, you need a jolt.

    A jolt stops you in your tracks, turns you around, and pushes you in another direction, unnerving though it may be. It catapults you from where you are to some other place. A jolt is qualitatively different from the sort of cool, considered modifications through which most of us fine-tune our lives. A jolt isn't about editing and revising; it's about the kind of transformation that clarifies, cleanses, and liberates.

    An educated guess here, but if you're reading this book, one element of your life that surely needs to be jolted is your career. That's why you picked up this book. Because even if your career looks good on paper, even if it feels good from day to day, you sense that your work life needs to advance, change places, or refocus.

    Maybe you're caught in the "golden prison career" syndrome: bored to the point of numbness, but shackled by the paycheck and bonuses. Or maybe your career is humming along very nicely indeed — so nicely that you can succeed at it with one hand tied behind your back, and certainly without ever having to stretch your brain.

    Maybe, like so many of your contemporaries, you are wondering whether you're really in the right job, in the right organization, or in the right industry. You worry that your true purpose is calling you, but you just can't hear it.

    Or it could be that you're entirely satisfied with your job, the pay, and your performance. But, hey, weren't you the person who was going to live life flat out, live it large, and achieve something way bigger than mere satisfaction?

    Whatever the case may be, you need a career jolt.

    I've seen careers jolted every which way: I've seen an ER doctor jolted into a social entrepreneur saving lives in Africa; a white-shoed lawyer jolted into a sandal-wearing Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The jolts were deliberate — and I helped make them happen.

    We think of jolts as happening to us. They're a surprise — sometimes a shock. We understand them only in retrospect. But what if you could control the jolt, just as the ER doctor, the lawyer, and the assembly line worker did? What if you could cause it to happen, program its content ahead of time, and command it? Couldn't you then shape the transformation it produces, as they did? Couldn't you ready yourself for a new love, lose the weight, finish the novel, free yourself of those silken shackles, and change jobs, careers, or lifestyles and head for the life you imagine? You could, and you can. That's what this book is about.

    For the most part, the average career-management guide today reads like a warrior's manual. It tells you how to draw up your battle plan, deploy your forces, and take that hill. It trains you to go out and engage "the enemy" — the enemy in this case being the job market, the organization you want to work for, or the dream job you want to define for yourself.

    Reality is actually a lot more complex, and it makes little sense to be at war with it. Taking the hill is rarely enough; the hill is only a stopping point between where you start and where you want to finish. Reality is about the finish, and it is about the journey toward it, day after day, as you grow into the person you want to be and can be.

    Creating the disruptions that will take you forward and upward on that advance, therefore, begins with digging deep to understand who you are and who you can be. It requires knowing the context in which you advance — the economic environment and the business trends and the resources that you can draw upon. But, above all, creating the jolt is an act of the imagination and intellect, and it must be challenged and tested against the facts of reality. That is why each chapter provides worksheets that help you quantify your progress through each action step, enabling you to do the hands-on scrutiny and analysis that is so essential to the process.

    Your work shapes so much of your life in so many ways, and if you have reached the point where you're wondering whether it is worth it, you need to find out if it is. If it isn't, jolt yourself into a career that is.

    Are you ready? Let's begin.

    * * *

    Now, let me introduce you to Lindsay (a composite of two clients), a successful professional by any measure. The head of the digital team at a well-known financial behemoth, she fell into, rather than aimed for, this field, but is grateful for the results. It was her parents who had urged her to focus on technology in college, and it was a bank that had recruited her after graduation to run a small technical marketing project. A bit more than a decade later, Lindsay leads the holding company's effort to bring new tools and Web platforms to marketing efforts, does it successfully, and is amply rewarded — at least financially.

    But the truth is that Lindsay, now in her mid-30s, feels that she has sleepwalked her way through her career and has decided she doesn't want to sleepwalk through her future. When she examines her own capabilities, she sees a woman who can take ownership of an initiative and guide it through to successful completion — a marketable value, especially in conjunction with her technical skills. But it's a value she has thus far "sold" to an industry she cares little about in return for financial compensation that buys her escapes from the career, namely, global travel to satisfy her love of history and her passion for learning about and cooking the great cuisines of the world.

    Wouldn't it be wonderful, Lindsay thinks as she checks the contents of her briefcase and sets forth for yet another day at the office, if the remaining decades of my work life could somehow serve what I love while taking advantage of what I am good at?

    It would, and it can. But to make it happen, Lindsay must jolt her career out of its complacency — jolt it forward to a career that rewards her with meaning as well as money, and jolt it upward to a level of work that engages her ardor, not just her sense of obligation. To do that, she will have to look to the very same strategy of innovation that has jolted new industries into being and reinvented the 21st-century global economy — and she will have to pointedly disrupt her own career trajectory.


    Yes, disrupt.

    As I mentioned, this disruption is not about destruction; it's about creating new value. Both the marketplace and the company advance until the next disruption.

    To carry this out on a personal level, the individual unleashes not a new technology, per se, but a thoughtfully programmed revamping of his or her professional profile, capabilities, and circumstances. The intention, however, is the same as that of the corporate strategist: to displace the individual's previous perceived value and, equally important, to do it ahead of the curve so as not to be disrupted out of relevance by the fast-paced changes happening around us at all times.

    Applied to one's work life and turned into a personal career-management plan, the jolt thus serves the individual's career in the same way. Yes, it's a disruptive shock to the current career trajectory, and yes, it rocks the stability of that career, but it does so by advancing it to a new plane. That is why jolting a career is something that can and should be done repeatedly; the aim is to disrupt and advance, again and again — as often as needed to move the career forward and upward. With each jolt, the individual refines his or her capabilities, personal brand, and mental approach to work, life, and career anew.

    That's exactly what Lindsay did. You have sensed that you need to do the same; it's why you're reading this book. But a disruption! — with the exclamation point almost inherent to it — sounds so radical. Isn't it fair to ask, "Is now the time?"

    Career Planning in a Changing World

    Look around you. The global business landscape is going through a roller-coaster ride of gyrations, and it is growing increasingly vicious. Talented people — the kind of professionals you would assume to be layoff-proof — have found themselves labeled "redundant" or unnecessary not just once, but repeatedly, as the old, "standard" jobs simply disappear. Meanwhile, those jobs that remain have become more demanding in the extreme: longer hours, more intense work, and roles that cross over and often blur professional, social, and personal spheres.

    We understand that we are in the midst of an unprecedented economic transition, and when we look at that transition from the point of view of the individual's work life, we see that the old rules simply don't apply anymore. Yes, there was a time when "career planning" meant thinking in terms of a two-axis matrix — a timeline on one axis and levels of hierarchical advancement on the other — then setting goals for climbing the ladder in five- or 10-year segments. That simply doesn't work today.

    For one thing, there are fewer rigid hierarchies. Although the Fortune 500 accounted for 20 percent of employment in the United States in 1970, their share had dropped to 8.5 percent by 1996, and ongoing productivity gains continue to shrink their workforce size. Most jobs — and not just in the United States — reside in smaller firms, which have typically been the incubators of economic growth and job creation. This reality has become particularly conspicuous in today's innovation economy of extra-establishment and sometimes anti-establishment start-ups.

    Equally determinative, how one succeeds has also changed. In the more growth-oriented sections of today's economy, success comes not to those who wait, but to those who are proactive about what is needed, even if it is not wanted right now. Success comes to those who move, engage, network, see, and communicate the possibilities, and get things done.

    There's an upside to all this confusing flux, and this is where the idea of the jolt earns its spurs: now more than ever, every individual in search of a life's work has the chance fully to realize his or her inherent talent in pursuit of a unique mission aimed at the twin goals of financial success and personal fulfillment. Clearly, if you are going to seize that chance and keep it fresh, you need to rethink — even redefine — the entire process of career planning.

    Staying put is not an option; if you stand still while others move forward, you will soon be left behind. So sustaining a career won't cut it. That is why the aim instead is to disrupt your work style and career in such a way as to burst your opportunities open — to shift yourself up and ahead to new capabilities that enrich your profile, to open new markets, to a change in direction for growth.

    Equally, that's why disruptive innovation must become an action plan as well as a watchword. We've seen the concept applied to education, healthcare, government, journalism, and, of course, business strategy. The jolt puts it to work for the individual career, whether you are just setting out, are ready to change the career you have, or want to turbo-charge your progress.

    So the answer to "Is now the time?" is that there has never been a better time to reach out and grab the work, life and career goals you want — and to do so with a disruption!


    Discipline #1: Dig Deep to Soar!

    When Lindsay came to me for consulting assistance on her career, her first question was "Where do I start?" I gave her a simple answer: her starting point is herself. I give you the exact same answer: "Start with you."

    After all, if what you're after is a career and life that rewards you with meaning and engages your ardor, you need to figure out what you mean by those terms. What is the meaning you seek as a reward in your work life, and what are the kinds of activities or circumstances that engage your ardor in other spheres of life? In short, what you have to determine is what Lindsay had to determine — what motivated her, what she wanted out of her life, and how her career could advance and support what she wanted out of her life.

    These are profound questions, and Lindsay had to dig deep to answer them. So will you.

    As I talked to and surveyed innovators across a series of cutting edge companies, a few core capabilities and mindsets came to the fore. Those capabilities are the goal posts for the discipline of digging deep. Understand which of those capabilities you have built with time, and if not, understand what prevented you from honing them. We'll discuss ways by which you can confront those truths and begin working on them. You may never fully get to 100 percent, but who does? It's about knowing what it takes, understanding what it might look like for you, and then beginning the "muscle-building" effort — the exercises that will help you evolve yourself and your mindset.

    Three Spheres of Yourself

    Ancient philosophies have multiple weighty tomes to offer you about self-knowledge. Ironically, I found it is the business world that offers a workable model for digging deep into the self and answering these questions honestly and straightforwardly. Any business organization ready for a change goes through precisely such a process. Whether its projected change is to grow, expand, rebrand, or evencontract, the organization takes time to assess exactly what it is changing from and to ensure it has the wherewithal to make the change it seeks. It examines its core competencies, analyzes its P&L (profit and loss) statement, and evaluates its employee base and leadership profile. This is neither a simple nor a short process, and it typically sets in motion a number of transforming actions that demand considerable effort from employees across the organization. But such organizational self-awareness is the essential starting-point for any evolutionary change.

    The individual's equivalent of an organizational self-assessment is not so different. When organizations catalogue their core competencies, they're looking at their strengths, what they're good at. When they analyze profit and loss, they're probing for weaknesses. When they check out the people who do the work and the folks who lead them, they're trying to understand what really drives the place. You will do the same, assessing yourself in three spheres to create your self-awareness map: core capabilities, black holes, and motivating passions.

    How Others See You

    The two components of determining how others perceive you are the people you ask and the kinds of assessments you elicit from them. Clearly, you want to reach out to a diverse and challenging group of people who will give you the broadest and deepest understanding of how you are perceived. As you engage your interviewees in your discussions, map their responses to see how they perceive you.

    Consider the following potential interviewee types:

    Your supervisor or senior leaders who have had the opportunity to work with you or watch you in action: Because these are people who have a vision for the organization or team, they can help you get a sense of how you are perceived from a top-down perspective, especially around whether you get things done and whether you have the skills and mentality ("fit") that align with the company culture.

    Peers with whom you have collaborated or with whom you need to spend time for work-related issues: Peers tend to engage with you with greater clarity, without the authority you wield over junior colleagues or the distance and formality that separates you from senior executives. Peers have the access and mindset to watch and judge your collaborative nature and your approach to solving problems. They often also have similar levels of access to information, so they can judge whether you're savvy or not about the company and industry.

    Team members are those who support you or work on projects you manage. Team members can be very clear on talent and management issues: How have you helped them grow, have you supported their aspirations, have you helped them deliver their best results, and have you managed multiple priorities to make their work manageable?

    Influencers are those who understand the company culture and know about your work and impact. This is a group that can help you understand your informal impact on the organization: Are you seen as a good player, as someone who strengthens the company by bringing their best to work?

    Focus: What Are You Trying to Understand?

    General reflections on work products and working style: How have things worked? What could have been done differently? What can you do more or less of? What should you stop doing?


    Excerpted from "The Career Catapult"
    by .
    Copyright © 2017 Roopa Unnikrishnan.
    Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

    Table of Contents

    Introduction The Jolt That Set Me Free 7

    Chapter 1 Why a Career Catapult? Design Your Own Destiny 25

    Chapter 2 Discipline #1: Dig Deep to Soar! 41

    Chapter 3 Discipline #2: Stalk Innovations and Trends 79

    Chapter 4 Discipline #3: Your Network on Jolt"! 107

    Chapter 5 Discipline #4: Prototype the Possibilities 135

    Chapter 6 Discipline #5: Go Extreme! 163

    Chapter 7 Unleash Your Disruption! The Time Is Now 191

    Afterword 221

    Chapter Notes 223

    Index 229

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