Paddle HR's Primary Research & Publications

The Paddle platform is based on primary research initiated by Matthew Thomas and Nick Lovegrove (the Authors) at McKinsey & Company and Harvard Kennedy School in 2012 on the topic of non-linear careers. Matthew and Nick have collaborated on publishing several popular articles and scholarly works since then, including Triple Strength Leadership with Harvard Business Review (September 2013), The Gifts of Breadth with Oxford University Press (October 2016) and The Mosaic Principle with PublicAffairs Books (November 2016).

The research sought to answer one core question: "What are the distinguishing traits of people who successfully cross sectors, disciplines, functions, cultures and issues during their careers?" Matthew and Nick identified six traits in aggregate: Balanced Motivations, Prepared Mind, Contextual Intelligence, Transferable Skills, Integrated Networks and Intellectual Thread. Insights from this research have been applied to inform and train current and emerging leaders at The White House, BlackRock, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Wharton School of Business, Stanford University, and Duke University. Paddle's Motivations Assessment is designed on the basis of these research and development findings as well. Paddle continuously conducts ongoing research and user testing to improve the reliability, validity and accuracy of its Motivations Assessment.

For the study, the Authors defined “non-linear” or “broad,” at the outset, as being based on sectors, i.e., leaders who are able and experienced in the business, non-profit, and government sectors. Based on this definition, the Authors identified 150 broad leaders to interview, who had worked as senior executives or representatives in their organizations (so as to ensure the Authors' subjects had amassed enough breadth to reflect on their experiences); and had worked full or part time in each of the business, government, and non-profit (including university) sectors. The typical subject would have worked full time in and transitioned often between two sectors (usually business and government) and worked part time in the third sector (usually non-profit). Of the 150 leaders the Authors interviewed, 60 were based in the United States, 70 in Canada, and 15 in Hong Kong and 5 in other countries (Singapore, Russia, and the United Kingdom). They include leaders such as Jarrett Barrios, CEO of the American Red Cross, Los Angeles; Doug Black, Senator of Canada; Carol Browner, Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group; Bernard Chan, President of Asia Financial Holdings; Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of the City of Calgary; Jeff Seabright, Chief Sustainability Officer of Unilever; Stacey Stewart, US President of the United Way; Michael Wilson, Chairman of Barclays Canada; and Rosanna Wong, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Youth Federation.

To identify their repertoire of skills, tools, and mindsets, the Authors conducted 60- to 90-minute interviews (on average) in a semi-structured format using a pre-defined list of questions. the Authors asked them to: (1) narrate their overall education and career experiences with special attention paid to when and why they made transitions; (2) explain what unique skills and resources they accumulated in each context and transferred to new contexts; (3) identify examples of impact attributable to their broad experiences and resources; (4) reflect on lessons they have learned while building a non-linear career and advice they would give to someone pursuing one; and (5) examine the relevance of broad experience in the context of current and future challenges faced by organizations and society. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. Insights were derived through a combination of reading transcripts, detailed interview coding/analysis, and research team discussions/problem solving.

On a more general level, the Authors research has revealed that in addition to sector breadth, many of the leaders interviewed displayed one or several additional dimensions of breadth: (i) intellectual breadth, i.e., an understanding of multiple fields of knowledge such as arts, sciences, engineering, business, and law; (ii) cultural breadth, i.e., a nuanced understanding of how different geographies and cultures impact the issue at hand; (iii) functional breadth, i.e., a knowledge of how different functions can inform and work together, such as finance, human resources, and operations; and (iv) industry breadth, i.e., an appreciation of the interactions between different industries, such as the food, water, and energy nexus.

More specifically, the Authors' research, combined with their own personal experiences as broad leaders spanning multiple generations, as well as insights of psychological and organizational research, allowed the Authors to identify six important traits of leaders who have successfully “gone broad.” You might call them the Broad Leader’s DNA - a common set of attributes that, together, create a compelling language and value proposition for how diverse experiences combine to form a leadership strength, not deficit. For each of these six distinguishing traits of broad leaders the Authors then examined (i) its benefits and relevancy, (ii) the experiences that support its development, and (iii) its associated challenges and risks.

To validate the Authors' initial findings, the Authors conducted a review of the popular literature as well as the relevant academic literature, with the latter turning out to be rather tangential - most probably because the notion of building cross-sector careers has been relatively unexplored by academics. On the whole, the Authors found sufficient support for their findings and refined/nuanced them when discovering additional and alternative evidence.

Paddle's Motivations Assessment is based on one specific and foundational finding in the Authors' research: that individuals have to balance and reconcile several competing motivations over the course of their non-linear careers, including a desire to create wealth for themselves and society; serve the needs of the vulnerable and the environment; seek power to have significant impact on key decisions; improve their skills, leadership, and personal lives; and drive change and advance progress.

They each carry with them primary motivations and values that guide career choices; similar to what Dr. Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, refers to as “career anchors”. Not every motivation can or will be primary; in fact, some secondary motivations - the “means” - serve to enable a primary motivation - the “end.” The challenge is that few roles or organizations will satisfy all of these varied motivations simultaneously - especially given each sector operates with a different purpose and set of motivations.

That is why the Paddle platform is designed to help users navigate non-linear careers by generating a portfolio of career options that satisfy their motivations, and recommending tailored content / experiences on a weekly basis to further their knowledge, networks and career development.