Nina Dejmanee | My Experimental Career

Nina Dejmanee | My Experimental Career

2017-08-18T13:19:40+00:00February 28th, 2014|Guest Bloggers|


Nina and I became acquainted through social media. When I learned that she was becoming an entrepreneur, and was committed enough to travel from Australia to Joanne Wilson's WE Festival in New York, I asked Nina to share her story.  Here it is!

***

I indulged myself in a minor career crisis recently. I speak on behalf of those around me – it wasn’t pretty.

It all started innocuously enough. I knew I needed a new challenge and had started to explore my options. It had taken me a while to even acknowledge I needed something new, much less deserved it.  I’d never had a ‘bad’ job – I’d been fortunate enough to land a fantastic job in an investment bank after graduation before making a transition to management consulting. I worked in a supportive team in an office where I could bring my dog to work (yes really!). I’d learnt a lot, met some fantastic colleagues and mentors and had some great opportunities thrown my way. Sounds great, right? Yes, but something didn’t feel quite right. At some point, I decided to believe that it was ok to want something new (aided by the dawning realization that unless I got a surprise visit from the cash fairy, I’d probably be working for at least another 30 years of my life and I should at least try and enjoy it).

Once I got over the guilt of wanting something more, I enjoyed the excitement and energy that comes from searching for the next big thing. But then, just as quickly, it all came crashing down. Paradoxically, I started to feel even more stifled by my exploration. There seemed to be ‘good options’ everywhere, but still, none of them felt right for me. To make matters worse, I actually couldn’t articulate what it was that I was looking for. Like most of us, I’m hard to put in a box. I studied psychology, then spent my career working in people analytics and organizational effectiveness consulting. I am analytical but creative. Introverted but sometimes boisterous. Structured but messy. And to top it all off, a hopeless nerd. Try finding a work environment that brings out the best in that!

Fast forward a bumpy few months, and I began to wonder whether it was possible to construct a different playing field. If my dream job didn’t exist, could I just create it for myself?

[1]

When we talk of careers we talk about things like ‘job descriptions’, ‘career paths’, ‘promotion pathways’, ‘glass ceilings’ and ‘job openings’. These are all terms we’ve created to describe a rigid career playing field that we have constructed for ourselves. This kind of structure can be helpful and it served me well after I graduated and entered the workforce – but what happens when you’ve explored the playing field and there aren’t any new positions left that excite you? Or – what if you’ve decided you want to play a new game entirely?

The challenge of forging a different path is that there isn’t a playbook. With this realization, I saw two options: 1) freak out, or 2) create my own rules. Hopefully it’s obvious that I chose option 2 (although I should confess at this point that I also gave option 1 a try. See opening statement about things getting messy). In the task of figuring out my own playbook, I spoke to my trusted friends and colleagues, read countless blogs, books and articles about people who’d had the courage to quit their jobs and jump into the unknown, taking big bets on their future and surviving to tell the tales of their success afterwards. Sounded romantic, but the reality is that I’m not really a big bets, quit my job and run off into the sunset kind of girl.

What I needed to do instead is take it one step at a time, testing the waters, shifting and trying new things – grasping onto what worked well and pivoting away from what didn’t.

I needed to conduct a career experiment.

scienceexperimentcover

(It’s important to understand that experimenting and iterating with my career didn’t mean playing it safe. If I was going to chicken out of making big decisions when the time was right all I’d actually be doing is sitting on the bench and not participating in any game at all – new or old.)

As for big decisions, the first one I made was to quit my job even though I didn’t have new job to go to. I didn’t quite run off into the sunset, carefree with a cocktail in hand. There was a fair amount of anxiety involved in the whole process but I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a bold decision if I was too securely wrapped up in a steady job. And now here I am, in the middle of 2014 – my grand experiment.

I think it will work something like this:

1.  Start with an idea – a best guess – about what’s going to work best for me based on my interests and constraints.  For example – ‘I’d like to run my own business’ (this step is now complete. Experiment off to a great start)

2.  Figure out the first step towards the goal, or maybe the first few steps, but no more than that. For example – ‘decide on a business idea that meets a market need and is a good use of my skills and interests’ (currently at this step. Patting myself on the back)

3.  See what happens. Take the time to look for cues or other evidence about what’s working or what’s not. For example – ‘am I enjoying this as much as I thought I would?’, ‘are people responding well to my business idea?

4.  Make adjustments to my plan of attack so that my next steps are informed by the lessons I’ve learnt – doing more of what’s resulting in positive change, and doing less of what’s not working. These might just be minor tweaks, or really big changes. Anything from ‘I should adjust the way I manage my work day because I’ve discovered I’m most productive in the morning’ to something as significant as ‘I thought I’d enjoy running my own business but I’m missing the opportunity to work in a team’

My aim is to be bold, but not foolish – at times it seems like a delicate balance. It will hopefully involve learning quickly about what does and doesn’t work, being open to feedback cues, and reorienting when needed.

This thinking, which has parallels to the lean startup methodology[2], has started to permeate both my life and work. I am currently nurturing a new start up idea and am following the same principles in my approach to business as well. And just to prove I’m really practising what I preach, the business idea itself is focused on creating management tools and technologies to help businesses be adaptive and experimental[3].

It’s early days for my startup. We have a small idea: help organizations capture early and continuous feedback (the essence of experimentation and adaptation), interact with live trends, and close the feedback loop, all in one cloud-based environment. If you think this sounds exactly what I’m trying to do in my professional life, you’re absolutely right. This feedback, experiment and adapt thing has kind of overtaken my thinking lately.

One of the fantastic things about dipping my toe into the startup world is that it’s giving me a whole new set of variables to play and learn with – a perfect environment for experimentation.

Nina is an entrepreneur who recently left management consulting to pursue a more creative path. Her startup, CueZero, is a cloud-based platform allowing teams and organizations to capture real-time feedback about organizational effectiveness, explore trends, and make swift decisions to ensure they are continuously adapting and innovating. It’s designed to provide a more agile alternative to structured feedback and planning cycles. You can learn more about it here.

Having experienced a relatively traditional career path to date, Nina’s also fascinated by the notion of the experimental career. Outside of work, her special talent is the ability to be gleefully and totally distracted by dogs and most furry animals, no matter what time of day, and no matter what she is doing at the time. Her business partner is very understanding.


[1] If you haven’t already, check out Whitney Johnson’s HBR article on disrupting yourself for some principles for creating the blueprint for this new playing field.

[2] Have a read of Reid Hoffman’s The Startup of You, which explains beautifully how lean startup principles are just as applicable to careers

[3] ‘Tell me more about this idea’, I hear you say. I would love to! Get in touch!