September 25, 2012

Leaving School for Industry

Recently, several dear friends of mine have left graduate school for industry, only to be disillusioned. I have worked for over a decade but remain in love with the academic ideal. I offer modest but earnest words of support.

When we leave school for industry, we experience an abrupt transition from an environment that celebrates individual achievement to a marketplace that rewards organizational achievement. We each hope to express the full extent of our potential, to find a career that springs from the uniqueness of our talent and earned experience. Academic and artistic achievement are bounded by our own limits. If we cannot sharpen a turn of phrase, balance the poise of a composition, or structure a problem and its solution incisively, it is only ourselves. While these pursuits celebrate individual achievement, industry is a stage for competing organizations.

As individuals, we see the prosperity of talent around us and the gap between where we wish to be and where we are. Joining industry, we learn to perceive organizational achievement and talent with similar clarity.

Organizations might gain competitive advantage through luck, team, experience, capital, relationships, brand, technology, or originality. The more clearly we see the mechanics of this inter-organization conflict, the better we understand the structure inside organizations. "Is it brand, technology, or sales that this organization needs help with? How does that match up with my talents and interests?" These challenges create opportunities for us, whether as employee or entrepreneur.

The marketplace will rarely allow a new contestant, whether individual or organization, to find glove fit opportunities. Between what is best for us and what is the opportunity in the marketplace is a gap. We must be patient. We must endure. Finally, we must compromise. Compromise wisely, for these decisions not only determine how effectively we compete, but ultimately who we are.

Filed under Essays