LINKS AND FURTHER READING:

  • You can find more on the S-curve of learning in Whitney’s book, Build an A Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve. (Buy it at Amazon, BN.com, IndieBound, or 8CR.)

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53 Responses to “Pinkcast 2.19: This is when to quit your job.”

  1. I love Whitney’s work on disruption, and while I agree that those signs of boredom at the mastery level are signals that you need to shake things up, I don’t think it’s wise to go ahead and jump (jump!) to the conclusion that it’s time to quit. It’s definitely time to do something different, but too often our default thinking is that “different” means “somewhere else.” Sometimes the best opportunities to leverage what you’ve already learned and the credibility you’ve already grown may exist right inside your own organization. I’ve found people can take bigger, more disruptive risks to try new things right in the old place–if they just start talking to others about it and don’t rely on job openings or waiting on permission from someone else. More here if it’s useful–thanks for the ideas (and the David Lee Roth flashback . . . )

    https://redcaperevolution.com/find-a-new-job-in-your-company/

    • Darcy,
      What a terrific piece–really enjoyed it. Loved the practical tips, including ‘network while you work’. And completely agree. In Build an A Team, I get to the same place, but a different angle, which is that frequently the people you need are right in front of you but they’ve become like wallpaper. You might be surprised…
      Thanks for weighing in–and for finding less risky ways for people to jump to new learning curves!
      Best,
      Whitney

  2. Susan says:

    Very interesting. Rather than quitting, however, there might be an opportunity to find another curve within. The organization can then keep good employees longer, and the employees can maintain valuable relationships and re-engage.

    • John says:

      I agree with Susan that is how my career has been honestly the last three years. It takes me about 6-9 months to master something and then I seek out a different position within the organization that I work for.

      • That is so great to hear John. Because of that your organization gets the benefit of your staying–and the institutional memory that comes with it.

    • Susan–So agree. Every single person in your organization is on a learning curve, including you. When you manage your people along that learning curve, and find a new one for them when they reach the top (effectively broker their personal disruption), they are more engaged, and stay longer–and your organization also benefits.

    • Susan! I totally agree. I have been a school leader for 10 years. I LOVE the industry, but the jobs can tend to repeat regardless of where you are on the globe. The “jump” is to remake yourself within the job. For example, come in authoritarian, change to distributive. Start as a leader and become a coach, a grower. It takes some practice. You have to set reminders like, “Hey! You don’t have to fix this, help someone else fix it. Teach them a new skill!” I kept this note on my desk for a year and had to refer to it until it became my new habit. So now, as I’m new again, I can stand “…my back up against the record machine…” and watch new leaders grow. It’s invigorating. Makes me want to jump! What a great Pinkcast today! Confession, I’m a full-bore Pinko! Wait, I think we need a better name. Pinkerton? Pinkivist? Pinkian?

      • What a fascinating take Lee. In reading your thoughts, you made me think of Garry Ridge, CEO at WD-40. He’s been in that role for twenty years, the market cap has grown seven-fold, and one of the ways is stays fresh is by watching new leaders grow. Exactly as you say.

  3. Ken Madsen says:

    One of the reasons why I love the Pinkcast – Dan’s amazing ability to make a Van Halen reference when discussing career paths. Well done. I love the S-curve explanation of going from incompetence to mastery. Mastery is a goal for most professionals. If one believes the 10K hour rule, it takes an incredible amount of effort and dedication to achieve a state of mastery in one’s craft. I believe what keeps one going to achieve mastery is the love of learning. When Whitney describes the inevitable boredom one experiences once you’ve achieved mastery, I think it’s because one does not believe there is more to learn. It’s the love of learning that is at play here, not the state of mastery. I’ve been in sales for over 20 years. I’ve also been an avid tennis player for the same amount of time. One of the reasons I still play is because I am constantly learning something new. The same in sales. I sell enterprise software applications and the market is so dynamic, I’m constantly learning new things – sales methodologies, technologies, business transformations, etc. In gist, mastery is a never-ending journey for those willing to look at their craft every day with new eyes.

    • Ken,
      I really love the way you described your experience.

      What’s fun about this S-curve of learning is that there is one for the arc of your career, smaller ones for each employer, role, and so on. And, as you have pointed out, there are lots of different ways to jump. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to quit your job, but through learning and development, new projects, team configurations, even a new boss, you have the opportunity to jump to a new curve.

      Thanks for weighing in, and I love tennis too–just finished listening to Winning Ugly.

      My best,
      Whitney

  4. John D says:

    I’m sure this is great advice for many people, particularly if they’re at a level of financial comfort and in a field where they can make these choices easily. But, it is presented as universal truth. Not sure it is.

    In many fields, mastery is the table stakes for stable employment and good compensation and security. If you are in a trade, this is often the case. When you’ve become a master carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc., you are expected to continue in that field and further build on your mastery. Sure, there are some individuals who may pick up other skills, a plumber or electrician may opt to also gain mastery in HVAC. But, many people are happy just maintaining mastery, maybe periodically learning something new once in a while.

    And then there are those whose passions lie outside the workplace. To them, their work does not define them. They may be defined by and inspired by their families. Or perhaps their hobbies – golf, fishing, painting, hiking, rock climbing, travel, gardening, etc. Or maybe they love reading? Not everyone needs to get their personal fulfillment from their work.

    So, this exercise should be put in context. “If you are someone who is looking to continue to progress your career, this might be useful in deciding when to change jobs, or pursue new skills, or explore different roles or new challenges within an organization.”

    It would make more sense in that context.

    • Dan Pink Dan Pink says:

      Great point, John. That context is very helpful.

      • Mary Anne C says:

        Dan,

        I want to celebrate your recognition of the value of context. Now I’d like to underscore the value of John D’s point. I believe that in this time of yawning context/worldview divide and the increasing polarization and suffering that comes with it, I believe that the most good for the greatest span that thought leaders such as yourself can achieve is to hone the ability to speak to multiple contexts/worldviews at once. (Please see this very short piece by Barrett C. Brown @ http://nextstepintegral.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Communicating-Sustainability-Barrett-Brown.pdff as an example.) If you can master that skill and still retain your 90-second format, you will indeed have made a huge positive impact upon the human family.

        Thanks for your attention!

      • Mary Anne C says:

        Dan,

        This reply has corrected the link below.

        I want to celebrate your recognition of the value of context. Now I’d like to underscore the value of John D’s point. I believe that in this time of yawning context/worldview divide and the increasing polarization and suffering that comes with it, I believe that the most good for the greatest span that thought leaders such as yourself can achieve is to hone the ability to speak to multiple contexts/worldviews at once. (Please see this very short piece by Barrett C. Brown @ http://nextstepintegral.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Communicating-Sustainability-Barrett-Brown.pdf as an example.) If you can master that skill and still retain your 90-second format, you will indeed have made a huge positive impact upon the human family.

        Thanks for your attention!

      • Mary Anne–I took a quick glimpse at your this paper–thank you for sharing this. The ability to speak to multiple contexts / worldviews at once–wow, impressive.

    • chris says:

      John, you are far more on target than Whitney. I taught college for 38 years. There are many different kinds of learning curves. The one I felt described most people was “punctuated equilibrium”, a phrase I stole from Stephen Jay Gould that he used to describe evolutionary change. For most “professions” there is no such thing as final mastery. One needs to keep redefining the problem in order to find fresh solutions, The “S” curve is too simplistic and a little too much in the vein of a cliched self help book brand of analysis.

    • An excellent point on context, John . Thank you.

      The stuck state of ‘boredom’ at traditional employed work can arise for a variety of reasons, and anyone on the verge of thinking they want to go and explore new fields could well find this S curve/jump lesson/book, supports them to find their courage to make the decision to go! And that’s okay if that’s what they need to do for themselves – the lesson meant they found their courage!

      As you say; any observation or lesson out there is all relevant for different people, in different context, and there are many other vehicles in life (beyond a work role) that bring fulfilment. And this can be true – or not -for different decades of life, too!

      My thoughts are a true ‘continual growth’ master will always have a love of learning and willing to be an apprentice again as they discover the next ‘stretch ‘ to challenge themselves with…and it may or may not be within the same organisation.

      And thank you Dan for sparking a fascinating conversation !

    • John–
      What a great point! There is your s-curve of learning at work at home and with your hobbies. This question does sometimes come up. What if I really love what I am doing and I have been doing it for far longer than four years? If boredom hasn’t set in, you are engaged and happy, then you are still in the sweet spot. Sometimes that’s because you are managing or juggling multiple curves. Just the other day I was speaking to a professional who took the S-curve locator and said, “Yup, I’m where I thought I would be– at the top. I’m a little bored. But I have a 1 year-old and a 3 year-old and that’s about all the excitement I can handle right now. Definitely the low-end there. So I’m going to find ways to mix it up for the next couple of years.” Thanks again for the context.
      My best, Whitney

  5. Kim Wennerberg says:

    I agree, but the timing of an S Curve can be shorter– not because we are such fast learners but because of other job-specific factors..

    • Absolutely Kim! There are a lot of factors that can shorten that curve, including how many hours you work / week. If you map against the 10,000 hour rule and work 40 hours, it’s six months before you move into the sweet spot. That’s the rule of thumb. As Ken just pointed out above, sometimes you can extend that. If needed, because for whatever you simply cannot jump (financial considerations as John mentioned), then mindfulness allows you lengthen your stay further.

  6. C.A. Hurst says:

    Thank you, Dan! Thank you, Whitney!

    Great info!

    Great music choice!

  7. Richard says:

    Great 90 seconds! Question: Does this also correlate to our “season of life”? It seems many organizations are most interested in the energy available in youth . . . and dismiss the mastery of the “veterans” whom I believe would find themselves on another part of the curve given the opportunity. Perhaps its more about finding a place that values rather than jumping.

    • It does Richard. 100%. This is something that I address in Build an A Team. As an organization, people at the top of the curve represent latent innovation capacity. The organizations that are willing to orchestrate personal disruptions can capture this, early career or late. It does mean that we have to resist the ‘I’ve paid my dues’ posture which I think is harder to do the more seasoned we get, but I suspect employers would be surprised at just how much people are willing to flex. It’s a matter of having the conversation.

  8. James L. Little says:

    Nice points! Love the “S” Curve!
    I always said that when you become the smartest in the room that it was time to leave and begin learning again.
    I also told people that, after a 45 year career, I had no career plan, but a career strategy.
    I call that strategy a portfolio. Like a 401(k), it is designed to have a broad portfolio of experiences and competencies as “investments”. I took more risks when I was younger, rebalanced when I became “over invested and always diversified. It is based on an objective of ALWAYS BE LEARNING.
    It is a 401(YOU) plan.

  9. I like it says:

    Tremendous simplicity to the advice. Learn, Leap, Repeat. Thank you, Daniel, for bringing us, Whitney.

    If your current gig isn’t going to give you the new learning – because they like you in a role because of your mastery, I would agree it’s time to Leap.

    And as a couple above have suggested, do make an effort to stay in your current company if you want, but don’t be stagnant for too long. Big companies don’t typically allow you to leap very often in my experience. Leapers in similar timeframes have left, learned, and come back with a whole new set of valuable skills. Leap-frogging me.

    Off to learn about the book – it has my attention. A rolling stone gathers no moss.

  10. Howard Weiss says:

    Thank you! You have absolved 50 years of guilt!

    It started six months before my four year stint as the Commander of a Titan 2 Nuclear-tipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System Crew was about to end. As members of a Nuclear Weapon Launch Crew we had the responsibility to report anyone we knew who worked within our system if we believed they were a physical, psychological or behavioral threat to the safety of the system. (https://www.energy.gov/ehss/human-reliability-program-handbook)

    When I was first certified to hold the key to launch the most powerful nuclear weapon ever deployed by the United States, as well as have access to the related Nuclear Launch Codes, I was the youngest officer ever to have that authority. (Two months before my 21st birthday).

    Here it was 3.5 years later and I had indeed mastered my craft and was bored out of mind. I couldn’t bare the notion of heading back underground for another 25 hour shift. According to the standards of the Human Reliability Program, I reported myself to the Flight Surgeon Psychiatrist, who, after hearing my story said “Captain Weiss, If you didn’t think you were going crazy after sitting in that hole for four years, I’d think you were crazy! Catch-22!”

    He had no choice but to relieve me of my duties, and I have felt guilty ever since. Until now.

    As I look back over my 50+ years of work, though I have stayed in the field of communication, I have moved onward acquiring new skills and abilities. At 74 I’m still doing that. A bit of teaching. Going from the Account Exec to the Creative Guy. Now shooting and producing videos- learning new skills regularly. Starting to draw and play piano. Always something new.

    I guess I was right all along!

  11. Mark Valley says:

    This PinkCast was thin gruel (a very sparse meal boiled in stale ideas) being filled with trite and obsolete “Jumping S-curve Theory” from innovation consultants of the 1980s. Surely there has to be something newer, better, more insightful this old organizational change chestnut now applied to professional careers?

  12. Zoë says:

    I think this is sometimes the issue with career teachers in a ‘traditional’ setting. Good schools provide and encourage innovative teaching opportunities for their staff …

  13. Good one the famous S curve. I have read her latest book on Building an A team which is good. I also liked her earlier one on Disrupt yourself. I think it does take a long time to get noticed that is why disruption happens when you least expect it especially by new entrants.

  14. Great analysis of learning/challenge then mastery/malaise (and love Van Halen…) “Quit your job” is not always necessary (or wise). Consider “job-crafting” a new challenge with the help of your boss. Having been in >thatmore than willing< to seek a creative new role! See Amy Wrzesniewski in HBR on this topic: http://bit.ly/JMakeItBetter (worth a try…)

  15. I am thinking of a concert pianist – perhaps one of the greats – who finds deeper and deeper expression in their repertoire as they move from mastery to new ideas of what mastery means.

  16. Scott Delinger says:

    If the floundering is 0.5 – 1 year, the learning is 1-3 years, and mastery is 0.5-1 year: the robot will be doing the job next. These guidelines may be true for simple tasks in those jobs everyone loves to hate and complain about, but this is FAR from universal advice and for truly engaging work, just plain wrong.

    WWDS: What Would Drucker Say?
    A. She’s wrong
    B. She’s really wrong
    C. She’s right for Walmart shelf stockers
    D. B and C

  17. Gordon K Dahlby says:

    The concept of ‘mastery’ seems more elusive than the guest implies. The concept that some topic or skill has nothing more to be learned, perfected, or iterated is foreign to education professionals. Is the implication of a plateau at the end of the “S” curve the correct metaphor?

    • As with everything there is nuance. What we do know from the neuroscience is that when we stop enjoying those feel-good chemicals that come from learning, things become tedious. The easiest and quickest way to solve that is to do something new. Whatever that may look like!

  18. Thanks Whitney and Dan, loved it, mastery and moving on to find the next learning curve.

  19. Bruce Rosove says:

    I worked in a large government department. When I had a project that I wanted to do, I would present it to the person I reported to. If they supported the work I wanted great. If not I would search out another person who I could work for and moved over to their organization and proceeded to develop my project. It was great fun doing projects that I saw as highly useful. I suppose I was doing what is proposed her. But, I was able to do it without the disruption of changing my employer. Stability and dynamic change at the same time.

    • Nicely done Bruce. If a company is smart, they will make it possible for repeated personal disruptions. That’s how you stage engaged and innovative. Which is precisely what you did. You and the government benefitted.

  20. Sharon Krueger says:

    Hi Whitney,

    Great to see you and your book featured here! I took your Unstuck45 program and loved it! Using the S-curve image to assess where I am at in my career has helped greatly, particularly since I am a visual person. I am approaching the top of the S-curve in my job and your program helped build my confidence to make the jump. I am thankful there are other areas I can pursue in my same place of work to continue my learning journey. I am also looking into projects outside of work to pursue other passions simultaneously. Your work has greatly benefited me. Thanks!

  21. Lee W Dabagia says:

    To Amin. Hi. Was there a reason my post was deleted? Did I offend someone? I don’t think there was anything remotely incendiary in what I wrote.

    • Lee W Dabagia says:

      Please remove the above comment. “To Amin. Hi. Was there a reason my post was deleted? Did I offend someone? I don’t think there was anything remotely incendiary in what I wrote.”

      Thank you,
      Lee

  22. Sanjay Chaudhri says:

    Fine !! You got to go when you got to go !!
    Appreciate the curves on the S , along the beginner to proficient to master axis, human tendency to get bored at some point of time , significance of the right mix of disruption and relevance etc etc etc. No arguments there !!
    One contrarian point though.
    Should one explore the possibility of stepping back a bit , to enjoy not only the fruits but also the feel of mastery (could be multifaceted mastery),something like finding happiness along the road one traveled,not at the end of it !
    And talking of the end of the road , where does it actually end ?? Surely ,you are not advocating an incessant rat race , which by the way , the rats too are slowly but surely rejecting .
    The ingredients of “job” & “learning” & “boredom” & “leading” when stirred in the cauldron of gainful employment , result in a heady concoction. Yes, concoction , because of its complexity & individual uniqueness.
    After all, the above named are means to an end , not an end unto themselves.
    Filters down to a simple personal choice, with all its attendant options, actions, consequences ; to go or not to go. Period.

    • Sanjay–great question. Not too long ago I had mountain climber Alison Levine on my podcast. She talked about how when you get to the top of a peak you take in all that you have achieved–it’s important to do–but because you are above a certain altitude, you slowly start to die. So the time that you can spend there is limited. I think it’s same with climbing your learning curves. Once you get to the top, stay there for six months, maybe a year (which I talk about in the book), survey what you’ve accomplished, the vista, but know that if you stay there too long, the plateau is a precipice.

      https://whitneyjohnson.com/alison-levine/

  23. Bill Stout says:

    A great message. Since I began my career some 45 years ago, I’ve always followed the process of annually reviewing what I’ve learned in the past year. If the answer is “not much,” I’ve moved on, usually to a different organization, but once within an organization. Once during my career, my boss was smart enough to recognize this concept, the one time I moved on within the same company. Of course, I’ve been lucky enough to be in a field where moving on isn’t so difficult.

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