Round Peg In A Cube Farm: Will Your Next Company Be As Innovative As You?

Jeff Gothelf, a user experience designer working for, blogs for us about project management and UX careers and trends.

Recently I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine about how to manage a personal brand within a corporate environment. At the end of that article I mentioned that if personal brand building is one of your goals and your employer doesn’t support it, you should consider another employer–or even consider going out on your own.

In a similar vein, I recently interviewed a job applicant whose most recent full-time job was at a large financial institution. He said that everyone there was assigned a very specific role. You were expected to perform the duties of the “job description” you had on the date you were hired–nothing more, nothing less. It wasn’t just that there was no expectation that you would offer any expanded skills, ideas, or collaborative thinking–doing those things was actually frowned upon. Anyone daring to step outside their very explicit cube of responsibilities risked making co-workers think they were being overly competitive or even insubordinate.

It can be hard for larger organizations to be nimble and to foster collaboration and innovation. For many people, a job at such places may be just fine. There’s something very comforting knowing exactly what’s expected of you and how you’re being evaluated. But other workers may consider collaboration, free expression, and broad thinking the core values they look for when considering a new job. It’s those same traits that foster agility in organizations and allow innovation to come from anywhere in the company.

If you define yourself as someone who thrives on the more loosely defined processes of cross-functional collaboration, make sure you consider your next employer very carefully. If Agile thinking or experience is in your background and you value the communication and fluidity that comes with that, research your next employer’s culture to understand whether these types of activities will be welcome. Even if the employer is not explicitly running an Agile shop, you should still endeavor to expose whether that kind of mindset will be successful there. If not, it may be in your best interests to consider other options.

About this Gun

Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf

has spent a 14-year career as an interaction designer, Agile practitioner, user experience team leader and blogger. Jeff has led cross-functional product design teams at TheLadders, Publicis Modem, WebTrends, Fidelity, and AOL while advising and mentoring the startup communities of New York City and Silicon Valley. Most recently Jeff launched Proof, a lean product design and innovation studio in New York City. Jeff is the author of Lean UX: Getting Out of the Deliverables Business (O'Reilly 2012) and a highly sought-after international speaker. Follow @jboogie.