Have you been following the series on taking control of your career? So far, I have written the first two installments on stretch assignments: “Take Control of Your Career, or Your Career Will Take Control of You” and “Stretch Assignment, How to Approach It – It’s All in the Information.”
Now, it’s time to evaluate all the information to make sense of it. This is the most important step, because your observations and insights, will enable you to solve the problem that will either make or save the company money. All the steps are important in the process, you know that, I know that. But unfortunately, in the world in which we live, it’s the results that count. Billionaire Mark Cuban, says that you only have to be right once. So for goodness sake, get it right this time. Your career depends on it.
Stretch Assignment: Making Sense of the Information Gathered
You now have information from a variety of sources – informational interviews, notes from articles, notes from the books you read, and possibly some from forums and social media groups. Now it’s time to combine the information so it’s easy to review. The last instructions I gave you in the second installment of the series, was to put all the answers to a specific question together, and do that for every question. Set aside time to review your complete notes. Read through your entire notes more than once, to make sure that you have a sound understanding of all the information.
Remember that when you reviewed your notes from the information you gathered, I encouraged you to make it a habit of extracting your five big ideas, and also write your reaction to the information. In Mind Mapping for Kids by Toni Krasnic, the author presents 8 Research-Based Reading Strategies. This model will help you to make sense of all the information that you collected.
- “Summarize: Identify the important ideas.
- Existing Knowledge: Rely on your exiting knowledge and previous experiences.
- Connect: Connect the new information to what you already know.
- Visualize: Picture what you are reading.
- Evaluate: Judge what you’re reading, does it make sense? Is it believable?
- Infer: What does the information mean? Dig deeper than the obvious.
- Synthesize: When you look at the complete picture, what insights can you glean?
- Question: Ask questions to understand your reading. And sometimes you read because you have questions. Keep those questions front and centre while you’re reading.”
Take the time to read through your notes again. I know that I have asked you to do this several times, but a stretch assignment is important to your career, therefore, it requires a lot of effort on your part. You have structured the information, so that everything related to a question is grouped together. This time around, when you are reading through your notes, ask and answer the eight questions above. Besides putting you in a different head space, you’ll be surprised by the new thoughts and ideas that you have. You are seeing the information in a new light
For the original work-related questions, you were trying to answer by gathering information, for the responses to each one, what are the big ideas you have gleaned from the data collected? Are there ways to create variations of those ideas? For each big idea, is there one or two words that capture the essence of the idea. Use those words to label the ideas. After you have done this for all the questions, it’s time to have some serious fun. Are you ready to have fun? Because a stretch assignment is an important project, that doesn’t mean that you cannot have fun while working on it.
Stretch Assignment: Combining the Ideas
Aggregate the Ideas
In this section, you are going to group ideas. Do not do the obvious, such as grouping together related ideas. Set aside about an hour of undisturbed time to work on this section.
- Focus on the problem/issue/challenge that you are trying to resolve. Use that as a basis for aggregating ideas.
- Take individual ideas, disconnected thoughts, insights, observations, and reactions, then group them together to form larger ideas. Aggregating the ideas simply mean adding meaning to the ideas. Connect disparate pieces of information to see what you discover. Make weird and wacky connections – step out of your comfort zone. What’s new? What are you discovering?
- Take partial solutions that you may have identified during information gathering, connecting them together. What new insights do you have?
Elevate the Ideas
This section is pretty important because the answers that you seek are not always obvious. If they were, someone would have resolved the problem/challenge/issue already. If you dedicated the time to gather information from all the sources, in the ways that I recommended, after elevating the big ideas, you will have a sense of how to solve the problem(s) you are trying to solve.
- Create themes for the larger ideas.
- In Non-Obvious by Rohit Bhargava, he suggests asking the following questions to elevate ideas:
- What interests me most about the idea?
- What elements could I have missed earlier?
- What is below the surface?
- What is the bigger picture?
- Where is the connection between ideas?
- Combine ideas from different niches in the industry to facilitate bigger thinking.
- Formulate the combined ideas in the form of solutions to the stretch assignment problem.
Possible Solutions to the Stretch Assignment
- Pick out three to five possible solutions to the problem that you are trying to solve.
- Use the BCG Model below to rank each solution.
BCG Model to Rank Hybrid Ideas
Rank the possible solutions above using the table below to identify the most feasible ones.
The best solutions to implement are the Cash Cows because the return is high without the use of a lot of resources. They are also the ones that will get you noticed when you implement them. Think of high impact ideas such as the ones that will result in solving important industry issues, workplace issue, help you to get a promotion, or help you to make money.
Present Your Solutions to the Leadership Team
It’s been a long journey for you. If you chose a problem that matters, chances are it would have taken you months, or even a year, to get to this point. When creating your presentation, include the important steps you took to get to the solutions. This helps to demonstrate your credibility, and that you took the stretch assignment seriously. You should have been providing status dates all along, and asking for feedback, and acting on it.
Present your three to five possible solutions, and the one that you think is best. Also ask for their opinions on what option they think is best for the organization, since they are the leaders of the organization. You went through the BCG Model to select what you think is the right solution, to demonstrate that you are a decision maker, and problem solver. You also want to demonstrate you understand the big picture.
If you are someone like me who works for herself, create a stretch assignment or special project for your business. I’m working on a couple right now. I will let you know how things work out.
Note: If at any time during the process you notice gaps in the information, please try to find what you need. However, as someone who has over 18 years of information gathering experience, you will never gather all the information because of time and money constraints. Additionally, some information may not exist. There are times when you have to make assumptions and intelligent guesses.
First Appeared on Birds on the Blog