Career lessons from Marissa Mayer

I admire Marissa Mayer and always enjoy hearing her interviews and talks.  I admire her for her brightness, work ethic, the combination of shyness and confidence, of geekiness and femininity, and for her professional achievements.

I listened to an interview she gave at Cleveland Clinic Ideas for Tomorrow event earlier this year.  In this interview she talks about her work at Yahoo and Google, her career choices and the rationale underpinning these. She concludes by outlining the lessons she has learned. Here is a summary of career lessons from Marissa Mayer:

  1. Often there is not a good or a right choice, but there are many good choices – it’s about picking well and then committing to it.
  2. Surround yourself with the smartest people you can to challenge you and push you to the next level.
  3. Go for things you are not yet ready to do – you will either learn that you are better than you thought or that you fall short of where you want to be – both outcomes are a huge learning opportunity.
  4. When choosing a job, go for an environment you’re comfortable in – you want to be somewhere where you are surrounded by like-minded people, where you can realise your full potential, where you can have your voice, where you can influence. It may seem that this point contradicts 2 and 3 above but it doesn’t – what Mayer is talking about here is not seeking a non-challenging environment but one where there is a mutual cultural and value fit between you and the organisation.  The metaphor she used to explain this is: ‘when doing sports you should really push yourself, but wear comfortable clothes’.
  5. And the most important advice in my view – Work somewhere where there is someone in the leadership who will believe in you and who will invest in you so that you can take your work to the next level and learn something new constantly.




The rise of the creative class

In The Rise of Creative ClassRichard Florida points out that little analytical value remains in traditional Marxian class distinctions of proletariat, bourgeoisie, capitalist and worker but also argues that the more recent concepts of knowledge worker, professional-managerial  and symbolic-analytical worker are also not sufficiently nuanced to describe the  contemporary forms of work.  He puts forward a four-category typology, “the new class structure” (Florida, 2002, pp. 68-72): creative class (comprised of two sub-groups – the super creative core and creative professionals); service class; working class; and agricultural workers.

1) Creative Class: within this group, the differentiation between the two sub-categories (the super creative core and creative professionals) is primarily based upon the extent to which these sub-groups produce transferable, widely usable forms (products, knowledge, methods, etc) as their primary function.

Super creative workers include eg scientists, engineers, writers, artists, architects, editors, designers, analysts, programmers.   The key characteristics of this sub-group are that they:

  • fully engage in creative process
  • produce new forms (designs, products, theories) that are readily transferable and widely useful
  • engage in creative work regularly – it’s their core task, it’s what they are paid to do
  • not just solve problems but find and define problems

Creative professionals includes health-care professionals, lawyers, managers, finance, office managers, some technicians in knowledge-intensive domains.  The key characteristics that distinguish this group are that they:

  • engage in creative problem-solving (but largely don’t define the problems)
  • draw upon existing knowledge to solve specific problems (but largely don’t create new knowledge)
  • sometimes may come up with a method or product that may become transferable and widely useful, but this is largely not part of their job description
  • apply or combine standard approaches in unique ways to fit the situation
  • exercise a great deal of judgement
  • sometimes may participate in testing and refinement of new techniques, product or method

2) Services class: low-end, typically low wage, and low-autonomy occupations, for example food-services workers, cleaners, personal care attendants, secretaries and clerical workers, security guards, some types of computer support specialists, etc. Florida argues that services class has emerged out of economic necessity because of the way the creative economy operates (it carries out largely a support function for the creative class).

3) Working class: including occupations such as roduction operations, transportation and material moving, repair and maintenance, construction work.

4) Agricultural workers: self-explanatory.

He also argues that the rise of creative class is reflected in shifts in values, norms and attitudes, in particular individuality, meritocracy, diversity and openness which always existed among certain types of professions but are now becoming increasingly much more pervasive and mainstream (ibid, pp. 77-80):

  • Individuality: creative workers have strong preference for individuality, self-statement; don’t want to conform to organisational directives; resist traditional group-oriented norms; endeavour to create individualistic identities (which can entail a mixing of multiple identities)
  • Meritocracy: merit, hard work, challenge and stimulation in work are strongly valued; propensity for goal-setting and achievement;  no longer define themselves mainly by financial status symbols – instead want to move up on the basis of their abilities and effort; are motivated by respect of peers; have faith that virtue will be rewarded; value self-determination; mistrust rigid caste systems.
  • Diversity and openness: diversity in all its manifestations is valued – seeking environment open to differences (from ethnic diversity to sexual orientation to acceptance of odd personal habits and styles of dress); value (geographic) mobility.