Career Building: Pink Elephants verses Purple Cows ...by Bill Knell
Despite complex corporate structures and tens of thousands of small companies, there are really just two types of businesses these days. There are those that conform and those that do not. Conformist companies are looking for people who will say that elephants are pink if that's what management wants. Non-conformist businesses want employees who can think out of the box and create a purple cow if one is needed.
When it comes to career building, the best company to work for is one with a solid business identity. Those that cross over from conformist to non-conformist and visa versa tend to seek big personnel changes. That's bad news for most of the employees hired with the previous identity in mind. These situations usually occur when buyouts or takeovers cause a major change in a company's business philosophy.
In the uncertain business climate created by unpredictable world events and wild economic trends, building a career can be tough. There are probably a lot more jobs on your resume then you wish were there. However, I'll let you in on a little secret. It's become a trend within the business world to prefer people who have been beat up a bit due to corporate change. Those people are survivors who can provide invaluable experience and morale building insight if sudden change comes to a company.
When considering the direction your career will take, ask yourself where you will fit in the corporate scheme of things? Do you want to be an out of the box thinking purple cow designer? Alternatively, would you feel more comfortable in a company that sets strict limits on creativity? The answer may not come easy. One could argue that the market for purple cow people is always there, but only real geniuses need apply.
We've all met people who are self-labeled innovators. While their ideas may be inventive, they may also be highly impractical. When I meet them, I always hope they have large trust funds or a wealthy uncle not long for this world. While it's healthy to believe in yourself, it's unhealthy to avoid facing reality. If you want to work as a member of any corporate or business team, you have to fit in. Even the most creative and innovative person must be willing to accept constructive criticism and management's direction.
Most innovators discover their talent in the workplace, not prior to it. It may be that you'll have to work in a more structured environment until an opportunity to unleash your creativity arises. The key is being ready when that time comes! Part of that means being willing to be mentored and trained. It's often argued that people who attend coaching or training sessions really do not need it, while others who should be there are not. That's because those who attend value and profit from what they learn. Those who do not show up lose the opportunity to gain from the experience of others.
There is some truth to the argument that the most innovative people start their own companies. However, it may also be true that such people do so out of necessity. Many are unable or unwilling to work with or for others. This forces them to create their own job and some do so with great success. That's the good news if they are as good as they believe themselves to be. The bad news is that the vast majority of such people often go through a number of business failures before they actually find something that works for them and can turn a profit. The lesson learned is that innovative people who are willing to be trained and mentored are likely to be more successful in the end.
If you want to knock management over with new ideas, it would be wise to avoid companies looking for cookie-cooker employees. On the other hand, you may want to avoid start-up companies looking for the next Bill Gates. Until Bill signs on, funding can dry up and the pavement is not a fun place to be with bills to pay. Sometimes you can be fortunate enough to come across well-established companies with departments that still encourage creativity. While you may not find a Starbucks or Zen Garden in the coffee room, there may be enough wiggle room for some honest out of the box thinking. A situation like that can help propel someone willing to try it to the next level.
Corporations like to believe that they know exactly whom they are looking for when it comes to hiring the right people. However, anyone interested in building a successful career would be foolish to leave it up to a persuasive recruiter. Even the most promising positions can have very deep sinkholes hidden in the fine print. Before you take the plunge, decide if you're ready to see pink elephants, create purple cows or exist somewhere in between until better real opportunity knocks at your door.