Suzy Welch on Making Career (and Life) Decisions

Last Updated Apr 27, 2009 6:31 PM EDT

Author Suzy Welch

Today's economy forces a lot of tough decisions on
you. Should you go back to school? href=";col1">Switch careers? Pour even
more of yourself into your work to try to preserve your job, or take the hint
that work isn't everything and spend more time with your family? A
smart way to weigh these competing options would be a welcome tool. Suzy Welch,
the best-selling author and former editor of the Harvard Business Review (HBR),
thinks she has the solution.

Her new book, 10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea, describes
how Welch herself managed to get over the difficulties she faced several years
ago juggling a demanding job with raising four kids. Here she discusses the
strategy she developed, the best way to optimize your human capital, and why
she feels her work stands on its own, apart from what she's done with
her well-known husband, former href=";col1">GE chief Jack Welch.

What exactly is 10-10-10?

It’s a way of looking at dilemmas that have no
easy answer and assessing the consequences of your options in 10 minutes, 10
months, and 10 years and bringing to bear on them your authentic values —
how you want to live, who you want to be, and who you want to spend time with.
When you put your options and your values together like this, you can make
decisions in a way that allows you to create a life of your own making instead
of your life living you.

Give us an example of how it works.

I used it with my niece just the other day. She wanted a
raise but there’d been layoffs in her organization. We talked about
what would happen in 10 minutes if she asked for a raise — her boss
would be shocked. We talked about in 10 months, did she think she’d
still be there and would she be burning any bridges by asking for the raise?
And in 10 years, would the raise make a difference given what she saw herself
doing? Given the consequences, she decided not to ask. A few days later they
gave her a raise anyway. So there was a huge upside for her not asking.

How did you come up with the idea?

I was on assignment to speak to some insurance executives in
Hawaii. I was living in Boston, it was a big long trip, and in a lame attempt
to crack the code of work-life balance I brought two of my children. It was an
unmitigated disaster. It came to a climax when I warehoused my kids at a hula
dance class during my speech and they charged in wearing their hula skirts. I
thought to myself, Something has to change. About 24 hours later, this came to

How is 10-10-10 any different from any other time management/resource
allocation strategy, like, say, Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek?

The difference is that 10-10-10 is a decision-making
process. The 4-Hour Work Week is just about time management.

You’ve written about managing human resources before in books
like Winning. What are the most effective ways for people to build up their
human capital?

There’s just one way — to overdeliver on
your results. It’s not who you know or where you went to school. If
you redefine your job as being bigger than what it’s supposed to be
and then overdeliver and exceed expectations, there’s no faster,
better way to get ahead. Good decision making is part of that. If you make more
thoughtful decisions, you’ll overdeliver with more success. Those are
completely linked.

You went to Harvard Business School and edited the HBR.
But how valuable is a business degree now that as many as a third of MBAs at top schools can’t find jobs?

That’s the age-old question. There are so many
examples of people who did well without a business degree. My husband is one of
them: He doesn’t have an MBA, but I think you could say he’s
very successful. Mark Zuckerberg, who started Facebook, doesn’t have
an MBA. You can get an MBA and it’s just a line on your resume. Or
you can go to business school, meet people, network with people, and dig deep
into the material with a truly alive mind.

Once you have an MBA, how important it is to your career
lasts about six months because any organization will know after about six
months if you’re a good performer or not, and they won’t
keep you around just because you have an MBA. I went to graduate school, I
learned things I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t, like
regression analysis. But it’s not the end all, be all.

Do you think the path to success for Gen Xers and Millennials is or will be
different from that for Boomers?

It was until the economy crashed. Up until the economy
brought them back to reality, the younger generations had ideas about
empowerment and pursuing different ventures, and had a different sensibility
about when the fruits of their labors would pay off. Then the economy took the wind
out of their sails. It used to be a new MBA would go looking for a job with
responsibility up front and work-life balance. The economy’s taught
them that wasn’t going to come on a silver platter anymore.

How important is work-life balance to optimizing your human capital?

I actually hate the word “balance.” I
think the term “work-life balance” suggests it’s
possible to have a balance. 10-10-10 forces you to say not everything is equal,
you have to make choices, and there are consequences to the decision you’re
making. It helps you determine what your choices are so you can decide how to
deploy your human capital.

You’ve been so publicly identified with Jack through your books
and columns. Is 10-10-10, which you wrote by yourself, your declaration
of independence?

Do you think having a column in Oprah magazine on my own for
four years and being an executive in residence at Babson College and raising
$40 million for the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program means I’ve
been under a stone someplace? I’ve had a fully blown career, I’ve
been in the workplace 30 years. Because a piece of my work is with my husband
doesn’t mean I’m joined at the hip with him. If people want
to see it that way, I don’t care.