This article is based on a presentation given by Karan Nigam at the Product Marketing Summit in Seattle. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

Before we jump in, I’d like you to take a moment to think about the following questions:

  • If you weren’t doing what you do today, what would you like to be doing?
  • Which personal values do you aim to reflect in your daily work?
  • What gives you energy as you think about your career advancement?

That’s right – I'm not here to talk to you about demand optimization, product storytelling, or customer insights. I'm here to talk about us – you and me – and that tiny little thing that defines so much of our lives: our careers.

I’ve always found it fascinating that we spend so much time defining our marketing plans, quarterly business reviews, and weekly dashboard review reviews. But when it comes to our own careers, we have this "we'll see how it goes" sort of approach. There’s a clear opportunity for us to think about our professional lives in a more structured, thoughtful, and ongoing manner.

By way of introduction, I'm Karan Nigam and I’m currently leading product marketing for one of the business units at Palo Alto Networks. I've had my share of move-arounds – some of them successful, some absolute failures – and I have some learnings to share from my journey.

The power of reinvention

A few years back, a mentor of mine, who happened to be a chief scientist at Microsoft, shared with me the importance of reinvention. As an early-career product marketer, I was always focused on the latest and greatest technology, but my mentor taught me that sometimes, focusing on improving and reinventing existing models can be even more effective than constantly chasing net-new inventions.

Inventions can often be accidental – chocolate chip cookies, Post-it notes, X-ray machines. So many things we rely on were accidental inventions. Reinvention, on the other hand, is almost always something you have to pay attention to and be conscious about. 

I started to think about this idea from a career perspective as well. Most of us don't spend enough time thinking about how we can reinvent ourselves to create careers that align with our values and bring us fulfillment. 

Disclaimer: Reinvening yourself may lead to months of self-doubt.

The Great Introspection

Over the last few years, humanity has lived through a massively dramatic experience where everything has been upended – economies, personal lives, and perspectives on what we buy and spend time on. 

Our relationship with work has completely changed. There's this constant tension between prioritizing personal well-being, flexibility, money, or the job itself. As professionals and individuals, we're unsure of how to think about careers that used to be linear.

This makes it all the more important to pause and think about what the market needs, what we have to offer, and how we fit into this new model of work.

Let’s take a look at some stats that have emerged from employers recently: 

  • Only 22% feel they’ll have the right sales and marketing talent in place in the next five years to sell what they have. 
  • Only 30% feel they have the right technical skills in the next five years to do the innovation they need to succeed. 
  • Over 60% of employers are open to hiring people from a variety of backgrounds. They want people with different skills and ideas because most companies are now in complex businesses. You don't just create a product that sells the same for 10 years - businesses get upended constantly. So companies want agile and adaptable talent.
  • Over 4 million people have changed jobs every month this past year - 4.3 million people across the US economy quit in February alone. The entire workplace is going through an incredible churn of talent.

What this tells us is that there’s a huge opportunity for those of us who want to be in the tech world to reinvent ourselves, to take on new challenges.

Employee stats

Over the last couple of years, there's been a lot written about “The Great Resignation” or “The Great Reshuffle,” but, for me, what's really interesting is the space that the last two years have created for a great introspection.

For the first time, we, as the talent, have the power to demand and think about a career – versus just a job –  in a more constructive way. This is what I call “The Great Introspection” and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.

Along with the great Introspection, I have three more key ideas I’d like to share:

  1. Linear careers are overrated
  2. Career as a service 
  3. Continuous and conscious reinvention

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these concepts.

Linear careers are overrated

In today's world, no one cares about the linearity of your career path. It used to be that people could demand higher salaries and titles when they stayed somewhere for 25 years, but that doesn't work anymore. 

It doesn't matter if you work for a 100,000-person company and then go to a 40-person startup either. The market isn't assessing your talent based on company size anymore. 

The market is thinking about talent based on experiences and what people bring to the table. We have to retune ourselves to this new mentality, since most of us went to school when linear careers were still the expectation.

To show you what I mean, let me share my story. 

I grew up in India with a loving family, but my mom had a strict idea of what I should become: a doctor, just like my dad. The plan was that I’d become a doctor, rise through the ranks until I ran my own hospital, and eventually win a Nobel prize for some incredible medical breakthrough – nice and linear. 

Spoiler alert: that’s not what happened. 

Looking back at my career, I realize that my original plans didn’t work out, but that was for the best. Let me talk through some of the transitions and failures I’ve experienced and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

Lesson one: Failing ≠ failure

My first lesson came from my time at Nokia. I joined because when I was growing up in India, Nokia was what Apple is today – one of the biggest consumer brands in modern business history. 

To give you a sense of their dominance, Nokia had 72% market share in Asia Pacific and 45% in North America in 2010. If you watch the Matrix movies, Keanu Reeves is even using a Nokia phone!

I joined Nokia during a transformative period. They were exploring how to create advanced smartphones featuring touch interfaces and robust app ecosystems. This was a time when Apple had just introduced the iPhone, shaking up a smartphone market that was primarily led by Blackberry.

I wanted to be part of their attempted transition. However, that didn’t exactly go to plan. 56,000 employees got laid off in the four and a half years I was there. It took me a long time to understand what this failure meant for me because I thought Nokia was my one and only job for life.

However, I was blown away by the number of offers I got from companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google after Nokia failed. They were all trying to figure out the smartphone business, and basically said, “We don't have enough people who understand this market.”

When I was approached for my Windows job, I asked why they wanted me. The hiring manager said, “We don't have enough people who know what failure looks and feels like. We don't know how to think about listening to customers. You guys completely screwed it up at Nokia, so we hope you can bring some of those learnings here.”

I was stunned that people were open to that perspective, because to me failing meant total failure. But that was the exactly wrong way to think about it. 

Every time you fail, it’s a great learning opportunity. And, trust me – there's a wonderful story that can come out of it if you pitch it right.