Historically, career growth has been likened to a corporate ladder, where individuals climb from one level to another, aiming for the top. This approach has been criticized for its rigidity and hierarchical structure and inability to adapt to the constantly changing world of work. A better analogy for today’s more flexible and collaborative workplaces and dynamic approach to career growth is the jungle gym. Let’s compare the corporate ladder and the jungle gym approaches and see why the jungle gym is a superior analogy to conceptualize the modern career journey.
The Corporate Ladder
The corporate ladder concept is a linear path to career growth typically based on promotions and titles. It assumes that there are narrow paths to positions of power and influence and a universal definition of success. This approach presumes a transparent and predictable pathway to success, with each step leading to a higher salary, a more significant title, and increased visibility. However, this approach is often criticized for its rigidity and lack of adaptability.
Furthermore, it categorically defines success solely based on titles and salary.
The Jungle Gym
The jungle gym approach to career growth has become a dominant way of discussing one’s career because of its inherent node to flexibility and adaptability. This approach centers on the acquisition of diverse skill sets and encourages the exploration of multiple interests, and embraces the robust solutions that emerge from various perspectives and points of view. It is a more dynamic approach that adapts to changes within the workplace and allows individuals to discover and create new opportunities for themselves. It recognizes that the workforce is not monolithic, nor is their definition of success, and provides for exploration sideways, down, and even swinging to different opportunities that may appear to be disparate.
As a coach who has worked with clients from interns to CEOs, the jungle gym approach affords individuals to quickly adapt to new roles and environments, increasing their employability and career prospects. Talented professionals have control over their career journeys and professional development in a way that the traditional corporate ladder approach often does not allow.
Viewing one’s career as a jungle gym allows individuals to develop a diverse skill set that makes them more adaptable and versatile employees empowered to craft and articulate their unique value proposition, rather than promoting hyper-specializing in a particular field or role, which can result in rigidity of thought and a monolithic approach to problem-solving. Possessing a more comprehensive array of experiences allows individuals to build more robust solutions because they can incorporate a more broad-ranging depth and breadth of best practices.