Cultivation vs engineering problems. Riffing on the difference by @nbashaw

I read this tweet today. It made me think, which bucket does ‘career’ fall into, so I’m going to riff on it a bit.

Some things you need to cultivate, like a garden.

Other things you need to engineer, like a rocket.

Often we get stuck when we try to engineer our way out of a cultivation problem, or vice-versa‘.

Engineering is making a thing that can perform a task despite variable conditions

Cultivation is about creating the right conditions for things to flourish according to their own plan‘.

Let’s start pre-career – education

There are different phases.

It starts as a cultivation problem. How do parents and teachers create the right environment for children to learn and create engaged, enthusiastic (and hopefully lifelong) learners?

Then it moves on to become an engineering problem. What academic options (A-Levels, International Baccalaureate, Degree/s) does the individual choose to either launch them into a particular career, or give them a core, transferrable skill set which they can apply to any number of potential career paths?

Problems do indeed occur when you try to cultivate an engineering problem.

For example governments and by extension parents, encourage people to take degrees when they’re unsuited to it. Universities fill up with people who are there for to find a path, or because it’s the thing they should do, rather than with a particular aim in mind, e.g. the career or the skill set.

Now let’s move onto the career

Even though you might engineer your education to get into your career, the career is a cultivation problem.

You have a plan, I want to make partner at a law firm by the time I’m 40.

Then you cultivate your own environment around that. Much like your parents and teachers did for your early education.

You learn. You network. Maybe you change firms or work abroad for the experience. You hope the series of steps you take gets you to your target.

But what if it doesn’t?

Or you don’t have a target?

Or the target changes?

What if you wake up one day and realise that the law sucks and you spend your whole life at work and you’re overweight, chronically stressed and at risk of a stroke?

Now you have an engineering problem.

How does your career work for you in variable conditions, when you don’t necessarily know your path?

This looks much like the problem you had when you selected your high school options.

How can you give yourself the highest chance of success? Spread your risk?

You think through your options, evaluate your skills and map out a portfolio career.

Some consulting, some NED work, some writing and paid speaking gigs. Maybe little islands to cultivate individually, but a system of roles you need to engineer to make work for you.

And so a career is much like education, different shapes call for different approaches.

At least, that’s where I got to. To be honest you could probably argue any of these points from either direction.

But it’s been fun to think it through and lay it out.

Thanks Nathan Baschez for today’s writing inspiration.

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