This past weekend was Thanksgiving and you have had to make a lot of decisions already. Peas or carrots? Ham or turkey? Apple or pumpkin pie? What if you had 500 billion billion choices to make before you put the turkey on the table? This week’s Podcast is with University of Alberta Professor Jonathan Schaeffer, a world expert in gaming software. Careers, like Thanksgiving, are all about our choices. In April of this year, he and his team solved the the world’s most complex gaming problem. They had been working on solving this challenge related to the game of checkers for 18 years. Gaming and careers have much in common. How often have you heard this statement in work? "You need to learn how to play the game." Both require knowledge, skills, decisions and smart risk taking. Jonathan’s approach to gaming and managing his career is summed up in one line. "Working in the real world is all about a game. You need a strategy to excel. Those that want to succeed need a strategy."
Jonathan was the typical "lots of potential" but not great on the follow through in school. "I was allergic to a lot of work". He started in math at University and just about quit. However, he ended up working on a chess program for his Masters, and he was motivated by a goal to create the best chess program in the world, which he did in 1986. Jonathan said "Intellectual curiosity led me to a deep passion." This led him to finishing his Ph.D. at The University of Waterloo, and taking an associate position at The University of Alberta computer science department. By 1989, Jonathan switched courses to another goal. He realized he was loosing the battle with IBM for the best chess gaming program in the world. He set a new goal to create the best program in the world related to checkers. Here is the catch: the complexity of this program was 1 million times larger. "Why go for a 1-2 times more complex problem?" The program would have to solve positions related to 500 billion (that is 5 followed by 20 zeros) possible choices to play a game. This project started in 1989 with 200 computers. For 18 years Jonathan and his team worked on this program. They successfully completed the project on April 29, 2007. The result, a perfect checkers game ends in a draw. How do you play a strong game in your career? How do you sift through all of the possible moves and strategies in an intelligent way to decide if it a good or a bad move? Should you take that promotion? Should you go back to school to do an MBA? Which is the best project to work on? Should you go to the interview? Should you look for another job? There are a myriad of choices that we face in our career. What is your strategy to reduce risk and make the best possible career decisions?
Here are 5 ways to decide your career move;
1. What is the Goal? In Jonathan’s case, he wanted to create the best checkers program in the world. Focus leads to clarity.
2. Why do I want the goal? For Jonathan, it was passion and intellectual curiosity and academic success. What drives you?
3. Search the possibilities. You have to know the range of options and moving from chess to checkers was one example of this. Remember, there are always options.
4. Use knowledge to evaluate. Think then act. Run the ideas through your knowledge base and others as well. Don’t do the "I felt it was the right decision." Think, then feel, then act!
5. Make the decision and be patient. Jonathan committed to the course and invested 18 years following through on that plan. We live in a drive through world. Success takes both time and follow through.
Bonus: Don’t expect perfection. If you remember anything, remember this – unlike computers, we will make mistakes. Accept that. When you are meeting in your next 12-step decision-making meeting, remember the first statement, "I am an imperfect person." Many professionals get stuck in trying to make the perfect decision. When you accept your limitations, it will free up the energy to move forward.
Follow these 5 principles. They will help remove the fear, reduce risk and enable you to make the best possible decisions. Careers like life are related to our choices. Great choices lead to great careers. Poor choices lead to poor careers.
As we completed our conversation, Jonathan shared one more comment about his own strategy related to having a great career. "If you want to be successful, you have to enjoy what you do. I put in long hours but I was having fun which gave me satisfaction and kept me motivated."
The core of what my team and I are involved with is helping our clients with their decisions. Great choices lead to great careers. Poor choices lead to poor careers.
Struggling with your decision? Book an initial consultation. I can bring my 17 years of knowledge to your career related opportunity. It’s your move now.
Along the road with you!