Today's blog post is an interview with Dave Power on his new book “The Curve Ahead: Discovering the Path to Unlimited Growth”. Dave is the CEO and President of The Perkins School and is an expert on helping growth stage companies achieve their full potential. We asked Dave some questions to help you apply his advice for businesses to your own professional life so you can realize the same type of growth his companies have.
Could you give us a brief overview of your book, “The Curve Ahead: Discovering the Path to Unlimited Growth”?
The Curve Ahead is intended to serve as a practical guide to innovation and growth strategy for business leaders, focusing mainly on mid-sized businesses, the engines of economic growth and wealth creation. I wrote The Curve Ahead because I wanted to share what I’ve learned about what it takes for growth companies and organizations to successfully reach their next S-curve. Often, companies have the talent, required capital and an excellent product – yet lose steam before truly hitting their stride and reaching their full potential. To illustrate how such situations often unfold, I’ve used the story of a fictional company that in each chapter faces the business problems, personal challenges and strategic dilemmas that are typical of many growth companies.
Your book covers several Innovation Power Tools to help companies develop an innovative process that will lead to sustained growth. Could these same tools help recent graduates starting their careers? What strategies would be best to apply to their own professional growth?
I do believe these tools can also be applied to recent graduates starting their careers. Here is a way to look at the Innovation Power Tools through the lens of professional growth:
- Learn – As the book mentions, the first step in any innovation process is to uncover the unaddressed needs of your customers, or in the case of a recent graduate looking for a job, the needs of the company or market you are striving to enter. You need to stand in the shoes of a future employer to understand their business environment, and to learn what annoys them and what delights them, their aspirations, and what keeps them up at night. This will help you determine how to refine your skills and experiences so that you are bringing a specific skill set to the table to meet a specific need.
- Design – Now that you have identified the employer’s needs, you should determine how you can refine your skills and experiences so that you are bringing a specific skill set to the table to meet this specific need. If you continue to do this over the life of your career, you will eventually hone your skills to the point that you are a high-demand commodity for employers looking for a specific skill set.
- Test – Once you determine the need you believe a certain employer is looking for, it is time to go test it in the field. Do some research, build a relationship with a mentor in the industry, spend a day shadowing someone in the position you hope to be in someday. Does this need really exist for the employer? If so, what will it take for you to get there? Does it require extra training or schooling? Is there an internship program that will perhaps give you the skills you need to eventually be hired into the position?
- Model – Continue to refine and hone your skills. Once you achieve your first job, view it not as the finish line, but as the start of a journey of learning from colleagues, mentors, and others in the fileld. As an industry develops, your skills will need to also. It’s just the beginning of another S-Curve!
What advice would you give millennials trying to make a mark on the work world?
There are several things you can do at a very young age to start making your mark on the world
• Take opportunities as they come. No opportunity is too small, and often those that appear unimportant at first can turn into something you never expected. Exceling at small opportunities at the beginning of your career may afford you bigger opportunities later.
• Travel far and often. Whether through work or personal interest, you must make it a priority to see as much of the world as you possibly can. Travel gives you a unique perspective that is invaluable and will help you professionally and fulfill you personally. In today’s global marketplace, employers will value a candidate with global perspective.
• Seek opportunities to make a big impact. What’s more important than how long you stay at a company is the impact you make while you are there. The quicker you can prove your value to an employer, the sooner you will be trusted with bigger, more important projects and given more opportunities. And you can be sure that an employer will adequately reward an employee they want to retain. So, once you are hired, look for small opportunities to start making an impression.
• Don’t be afraid of taking risks. Just like a company planning their next S-Curve, so should you not be afraid to take risks in building the path for your career. If we all keep doing what we did yesterday, we’ll never get ahead. Whether you succeed or fail, taking risks puts you in a position to learn and proves to others you have what it takes to carve a path in this world.
As someone who has held high level positions in companies like Novera Software, RSA Security and Sun Microsystems, what advice would you give to recent graduates looking for internships?
View an internship as an opportunity to discover what you want to do — and what you don’t. This applies not only to the work itself, but to the type of role you’re in. Use the opportunity to identify a mentor who wants to support you and has time to support you. They can tell you what it takes to get to their position, and help you identify opportunities along the way to get there.
Also, as I previously mentioned, use that internship to make an impact immediately. Internships really can be a foot in the door, so don’t take that for granted.