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Diagonal is the New Vertical

Diagonal is the New Vertical

Not all that long ago we believed that if we did a good job we’d be promoted, and that would continue until retirement. When I left Rutgers and stumbled into Prudential, I figured that in a decade or so I’d be president of the company. Of course, Laurence J. Peter created his “Peter Principle” which explains why all the cream can’t rise at once to lofty position—a great deal of it sours along the way. (The executives at Prudential, I’ve come to believe, were actually a different species. I wasn’t in that gene pool.)

Today, the route to a fulfilling life and career is diagonal, not vertical. Working for one organization for an extended time—for any kind of dynamic, talented individual—is like watching an apple turn brown. Marshall Goldsmith points out, “What got you here won’t get you there,” indicating that your abilities have to shift and improve in order to continually flourish.

In today’s “escape velocity” you need to constantly acquire new skills, while exercising old ones; adopt new behaviors and discard dysfunctional ones; and develop new sets of relationships while abandoning some that are weighting you down. I call this “letting go in order to reach out.”

No one should look at their career as a vertical climb any more. (What do “career coaches” do today? Their advice is valid for a nanosecond.) New opportunities are to your left and right, not through the ceiling above you. Airplanes do not climb in a straight, vertical line, but by going up as they go forward, which is why pilots have to think three-dimensionally.

So do you, unless you want to come tumbling back to earth and make a sudden stop.

© Alan Weiss 2013

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 4

  • Matthew Kuehlhorn

    August 23, 2013

    Great point! Thanks for the clarity on this. I have emulated this without even knowing it, yet until I became aware, I would run head first into the top spot–never quite getting there.

    It seems that a path forward definitely has many exits and turns. It is not a straight road. The old doctrine still persists in many people’s minds though so your point is timely.

  • Alan Weiss

    August 24, 2013

    Three-dimensional careers. Or, better: 360° careers.

  • Praveen Puri

    September 10, 2013

    Hi Alan,

    I understand your reference to “three-dimensional careers”, but not “360° careers”.

    Could you explain a bit more?



  • Alan Weiss

    September 10, 2013

    360° means all around you, in all directions.

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