It’s A Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder

jungle-gym

I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg’s much-talked-about book, Lean In.  When I was part of a collective of leaders at IDEO grappling with issues related to people & culture, one particular struggle was coming up with an alternate metaphor to replace the notion of a career ladder.   We never quite figured it out, but I’m delighted to report that someone has.  Sheryl credits Pattie Sellers, a senior editor at Fortune, with having conceived of the notion of careers as a jungle gym, not a ladder.  Sounds about right to me.  A few quotes I love discussing this concept:

“Ladders are limiting– people can move up or down, on or off.  Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration.  There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.”

“Plus, a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top.  On a ladder, most climbers are stuck staring at the butt of the person above.”

Which better describes your work life? Has your career been a vertical ladder (perhaps with a great rear view), or more like a playful and challenging jungle gym?

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One Comment

  1. Frankly, my career has been more like playing a trampoline. Sometimes, opportunities have required little jumps. Others have required that I put my legs into it and make a big leap. Sometimes I went at a slow pace with a little bouncing along. At other times, when my personal life was more stable, I went for the big, rapid jumps.

    The jungle gym metaphor is far more appropriate than a ladder, in my opinion. But it still implies steadiness and opportunities within equal grasp of each other. Both ladders and jungle gyms imply getting to the top of something. I always wanted to jump in and enjoy the moment.

    Reply

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