Ten years ago I began pursuing an experiment at Microsoft to evangelize a strategic approach to career planning that would take me on a journey I never expected.  The hypothesis was simple – mutual success and impact could be optimized when there is a great match between the talent needs of the business and the personal aspirations of employees.  A powerful idea but yet rarely practiced.

The Experiment

The challenge was that many professionals did not know who they really were, where they were going, and what they wanted.  Equally, managers often did not outline the current and future talent needs of the business.  I set out to enable that marketplace with the goal of changing lives and inspiring people to bring their whole person to the workplace.

It was a 7-step framework that I authored and used at group workshops, mentoring sessions, and speaking events across Microsoft that would help this cause. Helping people find themselves and refine their career path to make the biggest impact both at work and in life.  It was the most important contribution I could make and the events at Microsoft are cherished memories.  The experiment and interest had nothing to do with my job.  I was grateful for many leaders that gave me the latitude to pursue this passion.

Five years into this experiment a woman privately shared that I saved her life after hearing me speak at an event.  It was on that day November 10, 2013, that I realized that I would need to continue this unplanned journey into the foreseeable future.

Restarting the Quest

The quest that I outlined in 2014 had been on hold for the last few years. The death of both parents within three weeks, a move from Seattle to Austin, a job change, a divorce, and a master’s degree in data science.  Life happens and these rich experiences shaped my thinking even more about these 7 connected concepts.

I am now in a great place and inspired to resume the quest to help and connect with 63K people.  It’s special that my first events are connected to UC Berkeley as a mentor to data science students at the School of Information and a panelist for the Austin summer welcome party for those new freshmen headed out to Berkeley.

The draft of the often requested book is getting dusted off and expanded to include recent experiences over these last few years.

We all need a quest in life – something that is unique and special to us.  I found mine through curiosity and going after something big.  I recommend “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau for inspiration.

Updated Symbol

The original framework visual was recently reimagined to power the next ten years. The 7 concepts envisioned ten years ago remain pure but now in a connected model.  The person sits at the center with connections to the other concepts.  This updated visual was influenced by data science principles. It’s symbolic of my recent work building a large-scale knowledge graph.  Unique knowledge is derived by understanding connected concepts and their interaction.  Deep insight is only possible when we connect all aspects of our life.  Single events may not be able to be explained until we connect them to larger stories.  Daily actions and behaviors are guided by what we know and want.  We are not timid to show people who we are and what we stand for.

Our Mental Model

The principles of data science can be applied to shape the most important model – our brain.  The mental model of how we perceive and react to the world around us is shaped by our past and biases.  Each day we consume high volumes of data and our brains must make hundreds of decisions that ideally align with the objective function that delivers the outcomes we want to experience in life.  Many people have not built their “learning model” to guide each day and optimize time allocation. Cognitive biases impact quality decision making and we remain in a sub-optimal life.  How the principles of data science can be applied to improve our daily life will be shared in future posts.

The Power of Know

Over the last few years, one principle always resurfaced especially during challenging times – a confident, unwavering view of who you are, your values and what happiness look like – can help guide critical decisions about our precious time, relationships, and goals.  It’s the power of what we “know” in our mind and heart that eases and optimizes the decision process to our next state.


Throughout the years I occasionally would get the question of why I spend time and energy on this.  There are two simple reasons.

First, helping someone to shape their career strategy and seeing them take steps in a direction with purpose is an amazing gift.  I am often reminded of this when viewing LinkedIn and Facebook posts of people I connected with over the years.  I challenge you to experience this gift – help someone unconditionally with the expectation of nothing in return. You will be rewarded tenfold.  Remember that most of us needed help breaking into the workforce or transitioning into a new job.  Pay it forward or give back.

Second, it gives me an opportunity to reflect on and practice these concepts to up my game.  Basically, practicing what I preach.

Call to Action

Time and how we experience a typical day is the most precious resource we have.  It’s finite and we don’t know how much time we have left in the tank.

How are you spending time?  Is it aligned with your top 3 goals?  Do you even have those written down?

Look at the five people you spend the most time with.  Do they have the aspirations and qualities you respect?

Do you need to leave something behind to move in a new direction?

Over these next weeks, I will share content from “Know” for those looking to recalibrate their mental model this summer.

Connecting with inspirational people makes my quest possible.  Don’t hesitate to reach out and connect on LinkedIn, Twitter (@MrJamesGray), or my Facebook Page.

Anything is possible – just believe.