After looking at it on my reading list for over ten years, I finally got around to reading Only the Paranoid Survive, by Andrew S. Grove, the former Chairman and CEO of Intel. As I expected, I wondered why I hadn't picked it up sooner.

Grove, an engineer by training and the leader of one of the most successful technology companies of our time, writes in a plain, accessible style. His premise is that, no matter how successful an organization is, sooner or later it experiences a "strategic inflection point," which could threaten its market position or existence. It challenges the organization's most fundamental beliefs and assumptions and causes management to question everything. Worse yet, it can't be predicted, or even recognized until it's well under way.

From a leader's view, you don't know what's happened but something has changed. Something has gone very wrong, and you can't put your finger on it. Seemingly all of a sudden, people around you start acting weird. Your best customers no longer "get it." And while you're trying to figure it out, performance deteriorates. In response, you either go into denial or naturally do what has always worked best, what made you successful in the first place. But things only get worse...until you realize, accept, and confront this awful phenomenon.

It's a fascinating book written with first-hand experience.

I was reminded of this recently when I took my daughter to the mall to buy a MacBook for college.

Whenever I step into the Apple store, I always get a strange feeling. I can't help it. It just seems to me that things are different here. Day or night, it's always the busiest store in the mall. Whether a techie or technology neophyte, everyone seems to share a sense a fascination - look at all this cool stuff! You know the feeling. Remember how you felt when you first got your iPhone?

The whole scene reminds me of when Dorothy woke up in the Technicolor land of Oz and rightly observed, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

With all due respect to the company that made computer users out of most of us, I wonder how the Microsoft execs feel when they walk past the Apple store. The re-emergence of Apple a few years ago to such market prominence today is a clear example of a strategic inflection point for Microsoft. Their world was rocked, and it came out of nowhere.

The same thing can happen to you or me. Strategic inflection points affect organizations, but they also affect individuals. As Grove writes, "If you are an employee, sooner or later you will be affected by a strategic inflection point. Who knows what your job will look like after cataclysmic change sweeps through your industry...?"

Cataclysmic change sweeping through an industry. Now, that sounds familiar. That could be a definition of health care today. None of us knows what our industry will look like in five or seven years, but we know it will be very different. From a career standpoint, many will be in new jobs, jobs that we can't yet envision. And some of today's jobs will be just memories.

As with all change, this can be opportunity or threat. It depends how you approach it.

If you realize you have the ability, and obligation to yourself, to manage your career, this will be a great opportunity. Whether working for a provider, payer, or vendor, chances are your organization has needs that will put it to the test. It needs leaders, knowledge workers, and people eager to think anew and execute in unfamiliar terrain. It needs people who will embrace the change, learn all they can, and display an attitude of optimism and enthusiasm. Just thinking about that may energize some.

Unfortunately, some will miss this opportunity. They'll hope for the best and see where they end up, not realizing they have the power to control their destinies.

With active, thoughtful, career management, you can navigate your way through this strategic inflection point. You could be in a much better spot in a few years. Or you could be yearning for the good old days but, unlike Dorothy, realize you can't click your heels and go "home."

 

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