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?