It was time for recess, and my two favorite playground structures had primal names – the monkey bars and the jungle gym. Monkey bars were made of cold, grey steel. There was a straight up ladder on each side, connected by a horizontal ladder in the middle. You traversed one bar at a time, gripping with your hands while your body swang underneath. To get started, you stepped up on the ladder, waited your turn, and then tried to make it across without falling.
By contrast, the jungle gym was a free for all – a complex maze of interconnected steel bars that formed a giant rectangular structure or dome. No waiting in line. Pick any direction you want. If someone’s blocking you, just go around. Setting aside the occasional concussion or broken wrist, it was a heck of a lot of fun.
This comparison reminds me of the new collaborative org structure developing in companies today. There’s no clearly defined corporate ladder with a gold watch waiting at the end. Like the jungle gym, there are an infinite number of ways to progress, which I admit can sometimes freeze you into inaction. Which path do you take?
But the bright side of the jungle gym is that there’s no one above you on the ladder, forcing you to wait to achieve your next level. I spent some time early in my career waiting for others to quit or get fired before I could take their spot. Then I realized that up was not the only way up. Most of the big leaps for me have been lateral moves around the jungle gym – moving sideways before I could advance.
If you are not where you want to be in your career, maybe you’re stuck on a self-imposed corporate ladder. Are you waiting in line for the monkey bars with someone’s butt in your face? The ladder may be easier to predict, but it offers limited choices, slows you down, and makes it easier to make excuses. I suggest you jump onto the jungle gym… try a new direction and just keep moving.
Sideways is the new “up.”