By Denise McLaughlin, Worldwide Integrated Marketing Manager, Enterprise Business Group

I’ve been fortunate to have many unique projects come my way through a great career spanning several decades. I consider myself a seasoned “intrapreneur,” meaning, I’ve been at my company a long time, but I’ve always looked for start-ups and uncharted projects in whatever roles I’ve played.

Whenever a young professional asks me for advice about the typical career path, I assure them that the brightest spots they will experience are unpredictable. They are the result of meeting great people, learning, and in some cases, providential circumstance that invite you to dive into an entirely new endeavor.Reflection in car mirror while driving along open road A career is like a river. You may not always know what’s around the next bend, but you have to be willing to take the next crest anyway, and you better steer with gusto. You make incremental changes to stay the course, or to change it. Either way, there is no such thing as a static work style.

When it comes to our own work Scott Belsky says, “it cripples us to think ’if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’” Studying the forces that help people create the next idea requires continuous fine tuning of work styles and habits, to shape what to keep, and what to lose, and what to try next. He calls it “A/Me” testing, analogous to Google’s “A/B” technology assessment of small changes to see what works successfully. In the age of overloaded inboxes, newsletters, blogs, and voicemails most of us know all too well that without adjusting our habits, we hamper our abilities to act, rather than simply react.

Self assessments like the ones listed below help us innovate in what we contribute and how we work, but they also open us to possibilities that can make for a pretty exciting career.

  • Look for different perspectives in  the same story – One obvious truth that isn’t always obvious to us is that a group of people can be presented with the exact same facts and reach entirely different  conclusions. Turning a problem around a few times lets us look at it from many different vantage points.
  • Always remind yourself that a strength might also be a weakness – Early in my career I observed that possessing the art of persuasion can cloud what you hear. Great communication skills can be a vulnerability if they aren’t used well, and excellent communicators often must cultivate how to be good moderators and good listeners. It pays to honestly look at the downside of your strengths.
  • Mean what you say when you ask for input – Moving ideas into productive action demands genuine conversations, shared beliefs, and broad ownership for them. Belsky talks about the “myth of the lonely genius” and that there should be no shame in self marketing. This is true as  long as you’re not trying to only convince everybody to agree with you.
  • Learn to recognize and acknowledge credible contributions – Those who bring new ideas into action are willing to vet the negative sentiment, and learn to thrive despite it. They also reject “knowledge is power” and any kind of protective information hijacking by openly giving credit to those with the best ideas. Not only does this build critical coalitions, it invariably enriches their ideas.

A creative career demands perspective and the conscious commitment to adopt new ways to work. We can invest in the continuous energy needed for tackling the next waves on the horizon. We can jump, or dive, foster a major breakthrough or work the waves a little smarter. The most important thing to do is swim with possibilities, and expect to change our strokes.

How are you challenging yourself to make improvements on your career path?