Sunday, July 13, 2008

Influence of 'early career experiences'

What has been the impact of your 'early-career experiences' on you? For the purpose of this discussion, let us define 'early-career experiences' as 'experiences during the 'most impressionable part' of one's career and this would imply (for many people) experiences during the first few years of one's career/the experiences during one's first job. So please take a couple of minutes to think about your 'early-career experiences'. What do you remember about them? Do you think that they have impacted you in any significant manner? If yes, what has been the nature of the impact?

The importance of early life experiences on the psychological/behavioral development of a person is well known. But considering that one is usually much older when one starts working, can a similar phenomena occur - in the domain of one's basic assumptions about organizational life/work/career? In an earlier post (see HR professionals and Multiple Personality Disorder), I had speculated that 'traumatic' early career experiences might contribute to the development of some sort of a 'Multiple Personality Disorder' among HR professionals - especially among young MBAs in HR.

While I have been thinking about this issue for quite some time, the 'trigger' for this post came recently in the form of a discussion in an e-group that I am part of. This e-group consists mainly of my ex-colleagues from an organization in which I had worked a long time ago. We were discussing issues like"the reasons for the existence of strong bonds among us even though most of us had left the organization a long time ago"; "why do we often talk about the 'great experience' that we have had in that organization" etc. Now, there were multiple factors (at multiple) levels involved in the situation. I felt that one of the key factors involved (apart from the factors related to the organization context, nature of work, nature of inter-dependencies in the group etc.) was the profile of the members of the group/organization at that stage - most of us were at an 'impressionable stage' in our careers!.

It was the first job for many of us and I felt that it 'shaped' our definitions of 'what is good' in an organization/workplace context (i.e. the tacit/subconscious definitions of 'good' boss, 'good' team member, 'good' team, 'good' employer, 'good' learning opportunities and even that of 'good' work). Since other organizations (that we joined later in our career) are unlikely to provide environments that exactly match these definitions, the work experiences in them are likely to be perceived as falling short of 'the good old days'. I think that this is similar to the phenomena in which the traditional way of cooking in India (cooking with fire/heating food from the outside) influenced our definition of 'good taste'. This in turn made it difficult for a product like the microwave oven (that heat up food uniformly) to become popular in India* (other than for reheating the food) - till a new generation brought up on a more 'microwave-friendly' definition of 'good taste' became consumers.

So my hypothesis is that early career experiences can have a significant impact on our careers by influencing our basic workplace preferences and attitudes. Of course, there are other factors (like personality related factors) that can also influence our workplace preferences and attitudes. It would also be interesting to examine if the impact/influence of early career experiences reduces as one progresses in one's career (and gains more experiences/data points).

Any observations/comments?

*Note: I am not saying that this is the only factor that possibly worked against the popularity of microwave ovens. There could be many other contributing factors. For example, from a psychological point of view - fire has many important associations (i.e. fire symbolizes a number of things). It is a symbol of purity - for fire is considered to purify everything. Hence cooking food in fire can symbolize purification of food. Fire is also supposed to symbolize 'illumination', 'inner light' , 'holiness' etc.. It is interesting to note that in many of the cultures across the world there are myths related to 'theft of fire' (e.g. according to Greek mythology, Prometheus [whose name means 'foresight'] stole fire [which was available only to the gods at that time] from Zeus and gave it to the mankind). As I have said earlier (please see Myth and truth : 'So true that it can't be real'), myths often embody great truths.

Now let us come back to microwave ovens. From the above discussion, it can be seen that 'microwave-cooking' might have been at a disadvantage as compared to 'fire-cooking' because of the symbolic significance of fire. This argument becomes stronger if we compare microwave ovens to washing machines. As compared to microwave ovens, washing machines became popular in India much faster. One of the reasons for this could be that a washing machine is a more or less 'straight forward automation of an essentially mechanical process' (i.e. washing). So washing machines did not have to fight some of the above 'psychological battles' that microwave ovens had to fight! Anyway, since I am not an expert in marketing (or in microwave ovens/washing machines for that matter) let me not push this point any further !