Although I’ve forged a successful 40 year career in the life sciences, partnered with my wife of 38 years to raise two productive and happy daughters, and experienced the usual ups and downs that typify one’s life (many more ups than downs, I’m pleased to report), there’s still much to do. 

That said, finding an organization willing to invest their resources to tap in to this wellspring of experience was more challenging than I expected.  In today’s information-overloaded world, some organizations feel that experience is just a click away.  Why bring on a seasoned professional to offer expertise, when that expertise can be ordered on  Trying to install a new competency in the organization?  No problem!  Just buy the book, read it (not necessarily to completion), and off you go.   How wrong can you be?

Having been a client of Insigniam during my life sciences career, I was glad move to the other side of the equation and be able to contribute my expertise to Insigniam’s other clients. At Insigniam, I have the opportunity to make a contribution that is in line with my definition of success.

The definition of success changes over time

Of course, the definition of success varies for everyone and morphs over time as the things that motivate us, shift.  If we believe as David Rock, director of the Neuro Leadership Institute, that the brain is constantly categorizing everything in two buckets, threat or rewards, it’s easy to understand why what might motivate someone early in their career is not the same later on.  In the early days it seems to be mostly about rewards.  But, as time passes it’s more about protecting against perceived threats as you climb the ladder.   Do “they” think I’m (fill in the blank) enough? Smart, fast, thorough, creative, committed…etc.  Risk becomes something to avoid, and going along to get along seems to be the most direct route to “success”.

Now that I’m engaged in my “encore”, I find myself much more motivated by my commitment to something bigger than myself, and something less stimulating to my fight or flight response.  Discovering and trying new things are less fraught with fears.  Failure is embraced as an option that contributes to my development, and “traveling light” (as in with less emotional baggage) has been liberating.

Is gray the color of innovation?

As if icing to this cake, recent studies now suggest that “a little gray may go a long way” towards getting innovative ideas introduced and implemented in an organization.  This makes some sense.  Who better to innovate than people who have swung and missed a few times along the way?  Thomas Edison in his quest for the perfect light bulb filament said it best, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So, what do you think?  Is the trend towards placing a shelf-life on a person’s ability to motivate themselves and conjure and implement innovative solutions a sign of the natural order? Or is there a way for organizations to create environments that enable contributors to think and act in courageous and innovative ways throughout the life cycle of their association?

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