This Former Google Employee Says The 5-Year Plan is Irrelevant (Here’s Why)
Before you plan for the long-term, consider this strategy for success instead.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I don't know about you, but when I look back five years, I can barely recognize my life. That was two homes, one marriage, two startups, one puppy, four tropical vacations, and one office ago. It's incredible how fast life moves in the digital age -- so swiftly, in fact, that it makes me wonder how anyone could make long term plans at all.
Enter Jenny Blake: The woman who formed an entrepreneurial plan, quit Google to strike out on her own, and two years later found herself without a plan for what to do next. But, as entrepreneurs will often tell you, one of the greatest lessons of her life -- and the source of her ultimate success -- came out of that surprising uncertainty, and hers is a lesson we all need to learn as soon as possible.
For Jenny, the darkest moment came as she stared at her bookshelves full of business books. After quitting Google and reinventing herself as an entrepreneur, she had successfully launched her own entrepreneurial career. But then, two years in, she hit a wall when she didn't know what to do next. She stopped all of her income-generating activities, including coaching and speaking, to pause and reflect. To make matters more unsettling, she was forced to move; her rent doubled overnight, while her business income didn't.
She watched as her bank account dwindled to near-zero as she struggled to gain traction and figure out what her next best move could be. In despair, she wondered what was wrong with her. She had read every book on that shelf, and yet no epiphany had come. She was frustrated -- not because the knowledge wasn't accurate or helpful, but because none of that knowledge could help her pay the rent that was due in two weeks.
That's when Jenny had her epiphany, and realized how she -- and so many entrepreneurs -- had gone wrong.
"The mistake I was making," Jenny revealed to me as we spoke last month, "was focusing on what wasn't working, and what I didn't have, and what I didn't want. Looking outside of myself only kept killing my creativity, though." Instead, she began to think of life like a basketball exercise:
"When basketball players stop dribbling, they plant their feet. One foot stays grounded and that's their source of stability and strength. Then, the pivot foot can look for passing options. That's what I was missing in my life -- balancing what I already have with finding the people, skills and projects I need for the future."
Although she had been building a side hustle for years, she had been doing so in entirely new directions. It took her hitting a creative wall to realize that she didn't need something new; instead, she had years of experience, libraries of contacts and loads of knowledge she could use to create her next step forward.
That's when, as always happens when we least expect it, lightning struck -- and Jenny had the epiphany that would lead to her book, called Pivot.
The hypothesis for the book is that in a world moving swiftly into globalization, outsourcing, automation, technology and more, life is no longer as linear as it once was. The big search for what's next is no longer a midlife crisis phenomenon. Instead, in a faster society, that big search comes to us every few years.
That means more people, yours truly included, need to approach the art of the pivot differently -- not as a method, but as a mindset. Not as a crisis, but as a way of being.
As I listened to Jenny's story, I couldn't help but feel better about my own agency's seven pivots in nine years. Perhaps it wasn't a sign of failing after all? In fact, Jenny argues that while most startups leave pivoting to Plan B, pivoting should be Plan A all along. "When it's the original strategy," Jenny pointed out, "the agility makes it easier to double down on what's working while constantly scanning for the next opportunities based on existing strengths."
And it works for people and businesses alike. As she pointed out, planning long term means using linear thinking in a nonlinear world; in essence, it doesn't make sense. Rather, today's career path isn't like a ladder; it's more like a smartphone, and it's up to us to continually download skills, experiences, education and other helpful "apps" that make us able to run our lives effectively for our own personal needs and goals.
Being in a state of constant pivot is the only way to ensure that we use enough flexibility in our lives to stay firmly on any long-term course. In fact, when I look back five years, I can see that my long term plan did come to fruition, in many ways. But I never could have anticipated the insane variation in the details, and pivoting is what allowed those details to never derail my ultimate vision.
So, if you agree that change is the only constant, I invite you to join me and Jenny in being in a state of ever-evolving pivots-in-progress. Nobody knows what's going to happen -- but you can still be ready to succeed when it does.