Can you pivot?

Unless you have been sleeping the spring away, you know that Facebook recently bought Instagram, the photo sharing company, for $1 Billion. But Instagram didn’t start as a cool photo sharing app. The founders originally started a company called Burbn, which allowed users to share their locations as well as notes and pictures. Burbn did not take off, so the founders did what many successful start-up guys do: they pivoted in a slightly different direction. They stripped out the location and note sharing, and focused on photo sharing with filters and effects, thus setting Instagram apart from other apps. Its popularity soared. The rest is history.

I was reminded of pivoting founders this week when I attended a talk by former dean of Columbia College Austin Quigley, who discussed his own career, which developed in non-linear fashion, as do the careers of most of us. He stressed the need to learn how to change, or pivot. Today’s professionals will likely change careers multiple times. Even those who don’t must quickly adapt to rapid changes in their fields. Those who don’t stay ahead of the curve, Quigley said, will be left behind.

This was just the beginning of Quigley’s talk, which was fascinating and covered a lot of ground. I focus here on his emphasis on educating people for change. He feels institutions like Penn and Columbia are particularly able to provide this education through a thorough grounding in the liberal arts. This resonated with me, as I meet more and more Penn alumni who have successfully adapted to the challenges they face in their careers. They learned to pivot. And that is one of the most important things a Penn education can provide.

Can you recognize when it’s time to pivot? Are you ready to do so, again and again? To stay ahead of the proverbial curve, you must, regardless of where your career takes you. Success is not measured in billions, after all, but in the ability throughout one’s career to work and contribute in meaningful ways. Good luck with your pivots – and enjoy the summer.

Reading Days

By Sharon Fleshman

When I speak of “reading days”, I’m not referring to those days between the last day of classes and finals.  I’m talking about setting aside some time to catch up on reading of the non-academic variety.  This is something I’m definitely anticipating as I wrap up a class that I’ve been taking and the pace in my office slows a bit.

After finals, after graduation or at some point during the summer, consider blocking off a few hours a week to read and reflect on developments in your field.  Think of several newspapers, magazines or trade journals that are respected in your current (or targeted) industry.    Commit to regularly skimming these periodicals for articles that intrigue you and provide you with updates and trends.  For online resources, make sure to bookmark the websites for quick access.  You may even want to take a break from your screen; pick up a relevant newspaper or magazine and note items of interest.  Either way, this practice has two primary benefits:

You stay informed about your field.  If you are seeking employment, your growing awareness of your field will likely enhance your conversations during job interviews or networking meetings.  Once you are employed in your field of choice, continuing to be well-read will facilitate your professional development.

You uncover hidden jobs.  For example, you could be reading the business section of a regional newspaper and see that a division of a given company is expanding. As you peruse a website geared toward the non-profit sector, you might find that an organization has received funding for a new project.   Both of these scenarios would present opportunities for you to investigate the possibility of applying to jobs that haven’t been posted yet.

If you’d like to brainstorm ways to make the most of “reading days” for your career development or job search, contact a Career Services advisor or consult with a mentor in your field of interest.  In the meantime, be sure to also venture into other genres, such as novels, biographies, or essays, which can inspire and energize you for the road ahead.