Career Ideas from a Trip to IKEA

On a recent Nerd Journey episode, we interviewed Mike Burkhart.  As Mike considered what was next for his career, he examined what he wanted his life to be like rather than what he wanted his job / role to be like.  This was an interesting viewpoint that became much more vivid in my mind after a weekend trip to IKEA.

Even if you’re not a fan of shopping, taking a stroll through IKEA is pretty interesting.  The store layout is setup to show shoppers what could be, acting as a psychological sea of possibility.  Sure, furniture stores have been leveraging this tactic for some time, but it’s not the same as IKEA’s approach.  The shopping experience begins with a trip through the show room.  Walking down the main aisle one would see different rooms on either side – a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a closet, or perhaps an office…each carefully constructed down to the last detail.

Image Source – pixabay

Consider the above image.  All decor in this particular display room was pre-selected for the purpose of making it look appealing to a buyer.  Most everything you see in a room like this is for sale (the light, the chairs, the table, etc.).  This is a combination of items arranged in such a way which may or may not spark joy for shoppers, and even if the overall scene does not spark joy, the visual encourages the viewer to examine the specifics.

As I walked through IKEA with the family, it made me think about career.  Let’s tease out whether this makes sense.


The Rooms and Their Components

We will say the room type (kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, dining room, etc.) maps to a specific career field (technology, sales, marketing, human resources, etc.).  Since a kitchen in my house, for example, looks different from the kitchen in your house (despite having some similarities), we will consider a room and all its components as the equivalent of a specific job role at a specific company (i.e. Systems Administrator at Widgets R Us or Marketing Manager at Digital Creator’s Paper Saving Guild, etc.).

If we stay focused on the example of a kitchen, all kitchens are not the same size.  So think of a small kitchen as an entry level job and a larger kitchen as a job that is more senior (requiring more qualifications coming in, more responsibilities than entry level, etc.).  Of course, something at a VP or C-level would be the largest you can get from a spatial perspective (perhaps a kitchen with a large island and large dining table).  Let’s equate what is inside a specific room as a mixture of job responsibilities and the company’s benefits / compensation package.

To review, we have:

  • Room type = career field
  • Specific room plus all components = specific job at specific company
    • Room size = comparable to entry level vs. senior / highly specialized role
    • Room components = job responsibilities + compensation package

Adding to the Shopping Cart

Within each room, there are price tags on furniture and other decor.  This tells you the cost of the item / items and where to find it in the warehouse on the bottom floor.  So if you think you want to buy the item, you take a price tag (or take a picture of it) so that upon reaching the warehouse section, you can pick up the proper boxes containing all parts and pieces to assemble the item(s) in question…assuming you are willing to pay for it.

Think of the process of grabbing a price tag for something in a room as the conscious decision to add a job responsibility or company benefit to your cart (something you believe fits with what you want your life to look like). 

Perhaps you found a nicer kitchen table and chairs that you really want.  You already have a kitchen with a table and chairs in it and need to consider the following:

  • New table and chairs WILL NOT fit in your kitchen 
    If the table and chairs is way bigger than what you have, and you’re limited by space, you can’t buy it right now.  That’s the equivalent of seeing some responsibility / company benefit you would like to have but not being able to fit it into your current job (i.e. responsibility may be for someone more senior than the scope of your role, benefit might not be available at your company or not something you could get your company to give you).  This does not mean it is something you can never have but may mean a job change or company change is needed to get it (i.e. the cost of getting the item in question).  For now, it is a wish list item.
  • New table and chairs WILL fit in your kitchen 
    If the table and chairs fit into the space you have, it becomes a trade off.  Getting the new table and chairs means you have to give up the one you have now.  Think of this as having a new / higher level responsibility put on your plate to replace one that was already there.  Or, maybe it’s a new benefit you negotiated for by giving up something else (i.e. another week of PTO each year for agreeing to work in an on-call rotation twice each week).  There’s a cost associated with this option as well, just like the IKEA price tag.

The Walk as an Experience

Before walking into the store, you already had a kitchen in your house.  But, the walk through IKEA presented a number of options you may not have realized were possible.  Without exposure to these kinds of options, it’s possible to not even realize they exist.

Most every item in a room is for sale.  So if you looked through 5 different kitchen setups during the walk, you got 5 glimpses into what a completely new kitchen might look like as well as a bunch of options on what could be changed out in your current kitchen.  But the changes you make are associated with a cost.  Certainly if you don’t have the money to make a purchase (and accept the accompanying trade off), you are merely window shopping.  But in window shopping, you’re mentally creating that wish list of what life could be like.      

Making a Purchase

Once in the warehouse section of IKEA, you’ve picked up a shopping cart and added all the items you decided to buy during that visit and have considered the cost and associated trade offs before walking up to the cashier.  Think of the check out like signing an offer letter (a new offer letter with your current employer or one with a new employer).  If everything in that cart (desired responsibilities, company benefits) was offered to you, it would fit with what you want life to be like.  While some things about your job might stay exactly the same, others could be vastly different.

Maybe you couldn’t buy anything at all and just built a wish list.  That wish list represents what you’re looking for in the job that fits best in your life.  Maybe it takes multiple trips through the store to build one that is complete, but it is a template to help you target the job you’ve always wanted. 

In Summary

If you go back and listen to the podcast episode referenced at the beginning of this post, Mike had the wish list built.  Once he validated he could get all the components of the job he wanted, he knew it was worth the cost to go for it.  

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