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by Erik Sorenson | May 20, 2009


To borrow a football metaphor, this is a great time to spread the offense and run a little misdirection play if you are an aging executive (C-level, or working for C-level, and over the age of 35).  Chances are good your company is facing some serious headwinds (who isn’t?).  Chances are good your boss is looking for dramatic cost cuts.  Chances are you may have heard the phrase “top heavy” sometime in the past month or so.

Here’s the creative part.  In case you hadn’t noticed, careers are not linear any more.  It is partly because corporate America has changed, but it’s also because our culture has changed.  It has changed a lot since you started your adult work life.  (For a terrific explanation of this, check out the "Lattice Theory of Careers" by Cathy Benko, Chief Talent Officer for Deloitte in the November 9th edition of the New York Times.


The lattice theory suggests that the contemporary career does not force the careerist to climb a ladder or move in a strictly linear direction.  Rather it encourages the notion that true fulfillment lies in a more flexible approach, alternating lateral and even “downward” maneuvers in the pursuit of real career satisfaction.  It also suggests that in a mobile society and a high-tech, high-speed business environment, the creative careerist (with his or her longer life expectancy) might embrace working in different industries and different capacities over the course of a career life.

This philosophy has been embraced (absorbed?) by Generation Y already.  Most millenials put satisfaction first and move freely and frequently through different jobs and career paths in a non-linear fashion.  Of course, they have not invested 10 or 15 or 20 years in an industry, much less a single company, so they have little or nothing to “destroy” by “spreading the offense and running some misdirection.”   I get that.

However, you see them doing it to fine effect and you have seen “creative destruction” in one industry after another over the past couple decades.  It’s happening right now for our employers - think Finance, Media and Automobiles – just to name three prominent industries.  Think about the industries and career categories that will boom in the next couple decades.  For example, consider the fresh talent that will be required in Energy, Alternative Energy, Healthcare, Education, Government and the not-for-profit sector.   

To become less top-heavy, many companies are offering mid- and high-level execs decent severance packages.  This might be a good time to consider your options, ask yourself what really defines satisfaction in career, and make a quick, elegant exit.  You might need to detour back to school for some additional training or education or qualification.  And it might turn out to be the best move you ever made.


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