My One B1G Thing

James Gray - One Big ThingOver the last few years I have shared my passion for career strategy and management with many people within Microsoft.   While career strategy and mentoring others has always been an interest,  I really did not know if this was a special talent.  Even if I had something special nobody really knew what I was selling or the value given the pace of a typical business day.  I did not have a compelling event or situation that could launch my platform. I will share my example of how I applied the insight from the book “One B1G Thing” by Phil Cooke to refine and validate my passion.  It was only by putting myself out there with a captive audience that validated my One B1G Thing (OBT).  Ironically it was helping others find their career passion which led to the validation of my OBT.

My presentations typically include an overview of the Career Strategy Framework and the type of content that can be created to tell and execute your career story.  The concepts have more impact and are easily understood when I share my personal example.  A core deliverable produced by the framework  is the “Career Strategy Storytelling” deck that describes critical information to deliver your career message with a large audience.   My deck includes about ten slides including the slide in the picture above entitled “My One B1G Thing”.  It brings together the results of my reflection based on Phil Cooke’s book in an easy to consume view.   Over the last year  I have practiced putting myself out there with an “idea” about my OBT.  I was not 100% sure but I thought I would use my speaking events as a way to practice and refine it.   I highly recommend you do something similar otherwise your OBT may never be discovered.

Here is the journey that led to the validation of my OBT and I will relate them to key points reinforced by Phil Cooke.

Comes Easy to Me

Over the last year I have been asked to speak at multiple Microsoft events that have included over 100+ people.  While that may not seem very large, getting a group of Microsoft people for any hour event is difficult.  People who attended my presentations were complementary on what new insight they gained to approaching career strategy but I often discarded this given that this career management thing is a side hobby.  The more I spoke to employees and managers that needed help the more I realized there was a skill that had come easy to me.  I was helping employees take a journey to understand who they were, who they wanted to become and how to get there.   During my presentations and discussions I slowly realized that I was in an euphoric state that come not compare to anything else.  Many of my colleagues would ask when my book would be published but I often just laughed and discounted that.  I began to reconsider after thinking more about Phil Cooke’s quote “far too often we simply brush these complements aside, when they could be a critical key to our future calling” (One Big Thing, Phil Cooke).

I Love

My OBT was formed by a unique intersection of topics I love to learn and apply including management, marketing, analytics and technology.  The curiosity of using business theories and analytical models to predict the future is contagious. The ability to use those insights to drive human behavior is not only intellectually stimulating but it can lead to optimizing the one life we live.  My home office is filled with books and magazines on business theory, management practices and analytics.  This passion is what lead me to pursue an MBA at Haas-Berkeley and more recently as a graduate degree in predictive analytics at Northwestern University.   These topics shaped the creation of my framework and how I matured it over time.  Over the last few years I hosted talks within Microsoft on career strategy and small workshops for people who wanted to take control of their career.  Nobody told me to do this and I was not receiving extra compensation.  It is what I love to do.  I was helping people change their life by giving them a broader context and process how to plan and execute their career.  The people who landed new jobs or improved another aspect of their life was my reward.  I often found myself unconscious to time when creating new material or preparing for a workshop.   Creating new webcasts in my home office until late at night was common.   I was constantly thinking about how I could refine the framework and help people adopt it.

Drives Me Crazy

As a manager I hate to see people in the wrong jobs and unhappy people coming to work each day.  Life is really too short for all of that.  I am disappointed by the lost potential when a company says employees are the most important asset but they don’t back it up with tangible evidence.  I am fortunate to work for Microsoft that values employee contributions and helps them achieve their best. Like all large companies there will always be an opportunity to raise awareness and build a culture of mutual success.  The demands in the workplace have never been greater and the loss of consciousness to other important aspects of life including health and family can lead to big problems.  As a product of a divorced marriage, kids without parents and the pains that come with that drives me crazy.  I can remember some tough times as a kid and I don’t wish that on anyone.  We live one life and constant unhappiness is no way to live it.   My frustration to find the right job back in 2006 and need as a manager to help colleagues with their careers is what fueled my passion.  My theory was born that if I had a repeatable process that could help people define success and keep them on track using analytics then happiness would result.

Be Remembered For

I want to be remembered as someone who made others great.  A model husband that made my wife happy.  A father who guided, supported and encouraged his kids to pursue their dreams and achieve success in all aspects of their lives. In the workplace I want to be remembered as someone who created a culture for business results and employee happiness.   Someone who took time to mentor and develop others.  Someone who was driven to the highest levels of performance and inspiring others to do the same.   My experience is that I can achieve that by applying the 7 strategic processes of the framework.

The Intersection of a Need and a Passion

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In early 2006, at a low-point in my career, I sketched a picture that would later become a framework for how I approached my career and life.  The approach I used would result in a great job at Microsoft and a happier life overall.  As a manager at Microsoft I shared this with my small team as a way to help them plan their next career move.  I kept this approach primarily to myself and the team until 2010 when I was asked to speak with an intern group and other small teams to share the framework.  In 2012 I was asked by a senior leader to create a short video on career planning and also offer a workshop as small beta test.  In the first half of 2013 I spoke to hundreds of people in Microsoft as these webcasts, workshops and brown-bags become my platform to share ideas.   It was my personal and original content on how I applied the framework that I believe is how people connected with my message.  I shared how I approached each day as an individual, husband, father and leader.   Perhaps it was how I described my approach as a whole person not just who I was in the workplace.

What I learned surprisingly by sharing my career and life challenges is that many other people were challenged how to plan and execute their career while balancing life even though numerous resources existed internally and externally.   They wanted to learn more and were inspired by my ideas.  I validated there was a real need to help people with their careers and to ensure their plan including other aspects of their life including health, family and financial success.  It was the basic idea that employees in the right jobs would drive higher performance for Microsoft.   It was my curiosity on how to execute a career strategy while also taking a balanced approach to life that created an intersection of a need with a passion.  What I learned over the last few years is that you may never know exactly who you are and where you are going unless you listen to the clues and put yourself out there.  Although I had been pursuing a passion for about six years now, Phil Cooke’s book was a great refresher to refine your focus.  We live one life and it’s not forever.  Find your One B1g Thing and don’t look back.