One of my favorite books is Robert Pirsig’s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. In it Pirsig states that many times when we are faced with what appears to be a dilemma, a choice between two mutually-exclusive paths in which neither is optimal, the best course of action is to reject the dilemma and choose a third path.
As he says, if you are face to face with an angry bull and given the choice of being gored by either the left horn or the right, choose neither. Choose instead to punch the bull between the eyes, or perhaps lull it to sleep, or come up with a better plan in the moment. Choose anything but one of the offered paths that is certain to end in a bad outcome.
Engineers and other STEM workers are faced with a similar dilemma: Do they stay the course in the face of planned obsolescence, or do they walk away and try something completely different? Those are the two horns of the Engineer’s Dilemma. But this is a false dilemma, there are many other options:
1. STEM workers and those who understand planned obsolescence can advocate for meaningful changes to the way high-potential talent is managed in their companies. This is not an easy task, and success is far from guaranteed, but the probability of successfully instigating and even leading this change is greater than zero.
2. High-potential STEM workers can seek out new employers who have a culture that is more conducive to sustainable growth in both responsibility and rewards. This search is much more easily accomplished when it is planned in advance and not done under duress. A change of employment can be difficult, even life-altering in the short run, but if done well it will be a tremendous benefit over time.
3. All STEM workers can invest proactively in training, many times courtesy of their employers, to round out their skills in areas that will enable them to succeed in adjacent and potentially lucrative career paths like marketing, product management, sales, business development, and entrepreneurship. STEM graduates are particularly well-suited for many of these due to the rigorous education they have already completed. Training for a new function is not always a matter of going back to graduate school, rather acquiring the right mix of knowledge, practice, and coaching to succeed in navigating a planned step into an adjacent career path.
What do you think? Share your insights below.