HBS Professor on Exit Options

TLDR: He's not a fan of options-based career planning

"And in fact, maybe those serial options acquirers are simply masking a deep risk aversion that underlay their affinity for optionality. Even if not explicitly stated, optionality was always the end rather than a means to an end."


Totally agree with what he's saying. Maybe that's an unintended side-effect of the high opportunity / transaction costs of school these days? You read these stories of folks who went to top schools in the 70s who say, "Oh I just applied and went there. Paid for the whole thing by working in the summer." If that was the game these days I think I'd be much more inclined to pursue things that I was more clearly interested as opposed to min-maxing my career prospects

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Really interesting read. The whole concept of excelling at each stage to open new doors to provide potential outcomes vs. "risking" a more linear path in the a primary area of interest to become expert, category thought leader, etc.

How do you know which path to choose? I think a lot of it comes down to personality. Both are filled with really smart, achievement oriented individuals. One is typically more creative than the other.

Optionality Excellence - this person, at a very young age, desires achievement for the sake of that approval stamp. S/he uses step one success to get to step two. Do really well in HS, get accepted to a top college. Do really well in college, get hired by leading firm. get hired by leading firm to get to the next leading firm, and so on. It's formulaic. There may or may not be any interest in the steps along the way (I think that's sad).

Targeted Excellence - likely spent more time exploring (or just knew) what s/he wanted to be when s/he grew up. Designed a plan to get there. Even if it seems to be a circuitous route (lots of business owners with many fails along the way), They are constantly moving forward with new ideas, value creation, solutions because ultimately that's how they can monetize IP AND, it's the only way they know how to operate.

Both can be wildly successful. Both can fall on their face. The important thing is to figure out which one you are. I imagine each would be miserable living in the other's world.

I'm in the Targeted Excellence camp. Oldest brother is in the Optionality camp. I started a business early on. He did the F500/HBS/MBB/Corp Exec route. He's very successful. He would tell you he went MBB post MBA because he didn't know what he wanted to do. Now, as a 60 year old, he's of course focused on excellence, is a thought leader in an industry he loves (and has been deeply involved in for many years)

Both can play out quite well. Just be honest with yourself and determine who you are. Most people would have told me I was crazy (my dad actually did many times), but I was driven to create something which has served me well. Different strokes.

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