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Monday, April 2, 2012

Four Career Lessons from The Incredible Hulk

It's the first work day after April Fool's, and I've just spent the last hour trying to decide which articles I've been reading are tongue-in-cheek, and which are not.  So, I'm feeling a bit cheeky myself today.  This particular post is inspired by Five Career Lessons from Han Solo that I found on Forbes via Zite today, and Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk (also on Forbes) that John Halamka wrote about a few weeks ago, and finally (what I considered to be) a dare that @WalkerSearch posted here.

Below are four career lessons I've learned from the Incredible Hulk.

1. Get Angry
The most successful people I know in my field are also some of the most passionate about what they do.  When we engage our emotions in our efforts, the end result is quite a bit more than when we could care less.  Anger can be very powerful, as the Incredible Hulk shows us, but any strong emotion works.  If you can't get angry, find some other strong emotion to fuel your passion.

2. Trust Your Instincts
The Incredible Hulk operates on instinct, not intellect, and that instinct has saved him numerous times.  In  "How Doctors Think" (Groupman), and in "Blink" (Gladwell), the authors explain how instinct can be extremely powerful (for good or bad).  Most of what we call instinct is really awareness and training to a degree that how we respond is no longer a conscious activity.  I think of instinct as muscle memory for the brain.

One thing I've learned about instinct (and which Groupman talks about in his book):  They require exploration.  If my gut objects, I examine the reasons why.  Quite often it is because I've experienced something similar in the past.  When I can identify that experience, I can evaluate whether it really applies or not.  Either way, that exploration can teach me a lot about why I'm reacting, and enable me to either a) explain rationally, or b) suppress an irrational aversion.  Either way, digging into what my instinct is telling me is quite valuable.

That's what I mean when I say "trust your instincts".  What you think the instinct is saying (e.g., that you like or dislike something) isn't what you are trusting, but rather, you should trust that what you feel is important, because it is.

3. When you've finished, it's time to move on 
In the case of the Incredible Hulk, the reason to move on is simple survival.  Hanging out after you've just engaged in that much destruction is probably not a good idea.  What the Hulk also shows us is that when the passion is gone (in his case), the job is finished (usually because there's nothing left to destroy).

If you want to remain successful (in comic book publishing, or in any other career), you've got to find something to do when your story arc has completed.  In my case, it's not about destruction, but the idea that I've reached a goal.  Having reached that goal, it's time to find the next one.  More often than not (as in The Incredible Hulk comic books) the new goal is related to the old one.  After all, each book moves the story forward in small steps.  Other times, its a completely new goal, because eventually a series has to end.

4. Have an Alter Ego
Passion is wonderful, but it can also be all-consuming.  The Incredible Hulk cannot maintain that level of effort 24x7.  He needs time to recoup his energy, to be someone else, and to do other things that are also important.  Don't let your passion take over your life completely.  Spend time with your family and friends.  Reinvigorate yourself.  Nobody (even the Incredible Hulk) can do it all.

 -- Keith