Your Career Game: Make Winning Business Moves

Career GameAre you undecided on what direction your career should take? Maybe you need a fresh way to see your role in the game of business.   If you do, you may want to read Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.

Authors Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles have  written a wonderful modern playbook for career decisions.  Bennett is a Professor of Management at Georgia Tech and owner of consulting firm Red Buoy Consulting, and Stephen Miles is  vice-chairman of Heidrick and Struggles‘ Leadership Consulting Practice.

I knew Bennett previously during my MBA studies at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.  While researching my next books to review, I came across this book while reading the business school website.  I reached out to Bennett, hoping the book’s topic would benefit small businesses.

So you may be asking yourself, “Why review a career book, a tool typically meant to aid a corporate career, when I have have already decided to be an entrepreneur?” The game theory steps outlined can show entrepreneurs and small business owners how to weigh partnerships, seek mentors and develop employees from the Gen X, Gen Y and Baby Boomer generations.  Your Career Game is also a good book for those who have decided to not be entrepreneurs but are still unsure how to better manage their business relationships and career choices.

See the game board and your moves on it

Your Career Game examines game theory as it relates to professional development. It explains how each person is a player who needs to understand the rules and potential impact from other participants and choices.  The early chapters of the book lay out the elements of game theory, some of which include:

  • Rationality – what choices would any reasonable player make
  • Payoffs – Values assigned to the outcome of a rational choice
  • Sequential/Simultaneous Move Games – Rules on the timing of the moves
  • Mixed and Pure Strategies – no best moves, usually with random selection of a player’s move

The authors then focus on how the game is framed and what kinds of moves are typically considered.  This is where featured conversations with various executives are held up as examples of career game theory at work. My favorite comments came from BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers regarding resumes because it mirrored so closely to what I think value is in a background regardless of job type:

“The advice I give to early-career people is to think about their resumes as more than a history of places visited. For each point on their journey, they should be able to point to  something that truly is different today because they were a part of it – something that, if they weren’t there, wouldn’t have happened in that way.  It doesn’t mean that you have to lead it or be the sole contributor, but there should be an undeniable case that you have contributed towards something that is lasting.”

Keith Wyche, author of Good Is Not Enough and high-profile president of U.S. Operations at Pitney Bowes Management Service, comments about choosing a company based on its diversity record:

“I encourage people to look for an indication that the company “gets it” – even if they haven’t yet had success attracting large numbers of women or minorities, there can be signs that their commitment to doing so is real. As companies come to realize that diversity is not just the nice thing to do, you will see very visible efforts to make it clear that they understand and respect a diverse workforce.”

While the interviews are with executives from notable corporations like Home Depot, Xerox, Microsoft and Coca-Cola, there are a few entrepreneurial perspectives from professionals such as Chris Klaus, who left Georgia Tech to develop his startup, Internet Security Systems.  The authors note how Klaus “made timely moves that often trip up entrepreneurs – the ability to move away from the leadership position, to find others to push the company ahead…” Here are Klaus’s words on finding outside investors, with his decision reflecting the idea of understand moves and outcomes:

“One of the biggest decisions any entrepreneur faces is when to bring in outside partners…By bringing in investment, by giving up control, by getting the right people on the team, the idea can become much bigger.  Whether or not you as the founder can make that work is a big question.”

The book’s comments, particularly with regard to evaluating moves, translate well for the choices small business owners encounter.  For example, many articles recommend that new business owners who want to be seen as “an expert” should just claim the title. Well, read the comments from Carol Tome, Chief Financial Officer and executive vice president of corporate services for Home Depot, on how breadth and experience contribute to expertise:

Authors: Can you speak to the importance of experience, depth, and breadth with respect to building a resume?

Tome: It is an interesting point — some people grow up and become experts, yet their experience is a mile deep and an inch wide. One advantage of smaller companies is that it is less likely you will get pigeonholed. There are too many  things to do and never enough people, so you may get exposed to a broader range in the business…As you build your career, if you don’t have the opportunity to understand the business more broadly, it is critical that you surround yourself with good people who can fill in your blind spots.

This tip is helpful for solopreneurs looking to fill the blind spots in their skill set, be it seeking others through a partner or through their own training.  It also aids medium-sized businesses that need some guidance in developing employee skills.  The interviewees in Your Career Game are pragmatic and honest in discussing modern career concerns such as job sharing, generational differences in career decision-making, and having an exit plan.

You cannot help but have a better game plan after reading this book

I liked that the book is brief while intensely covering diverse applications of game theory to successful decision making.  Your Career Game offers excellent instruction for any young professional starting out or seasoned vet who needs a fresh outlook on his or her career or business choices.  Small business owners can apply the principles to their partnerships, their selection of mentors and their plans for growing an organizational structure.

I tip my hat to Nathan Bennett and Stephan Miles for advancing career planning in an accessible way. Whether hiring or partnering, small business owners will find their winning move by applying the concepts of Your Career Game. Game, set, match.

You can follow Nate Bennett on Twitter and visit the book’s web site at Your Career Game.

Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.