Finding Lost Pens & Lending Them: Overcoming the Myths around Growing Scope & Influence

Birth of Stars Carina Nebula

This is What it Feels Like – 2023 Remix” by Admin van Buuren, Trevor Guthrie 🎵

It is exceptionally easy in a role to feel “my scope is not increasing.”

This can resonate as “I am not getting headcount,” or “I am not getting opportunity,” or, for many in games, “I lost my job.”

These emotions are real. I am not going to pretend they don’t feel like defeat – they do. They completely suck.

Let’s start there.

Some may wait and see if they can get increased scope by a definition for which they had previously defined it: a higher paying job, a better title, a management position, a new startup, or a new product line opportunity.

Or go for something different in their career path because they have to: a lower paying job, a less shiny title, shifting back into individual contributor, an industry change – perhaps perceiving it as decreased scope even if it is not that at all.

The feelings involved are challenging.
Managing others expectations, family included, is unfair.
The self-reflection is challenging.
The personal transformation involved is spiritual.
But this industry? We know better.

We are not the bar for which the bars ever held us in the past.
We own our own and here is why.

I’ve stopped beating myself up for not meeting a fantasy bar defined by others. More importantly, it hasn’t helped me and likely does not help YOU find happiness and grow you own career scope in a way that works for your life missions.

Businesses constantly change. The opportunities they have change with it. We are forced by proxy to pivot with them. What helped me most was to reframe how I think about scope so that scope is not something anyone ever has to give to me.

Scope is an Attitude I Own, Know, and Control Completely

A lot of our perceptions of scope come from how we perceive others will see us – They are often not how we ourselves feel we are growing, learning, and changing through the powers of our own influence.

We can measure our own success regardless of whether someone else sees it and then determine if we are getting enough value for our impact – I’d encourage also thinking outside of the predefined definitions in any job tree you’ve ever seen with this one. Impact and the measurement of it can extend beyond the walls of any company and our past good deeds impact far beyond tenure at any one employer.

With time, I became confident that scope is not asking a manager for more of it. Sure, it’s a great place to start, “I will ask my manager for opportunities. And then if I do them, I will have demonstrated increased scope.”

I learned those with the most scope didn’t just ask for opportunities, rather, they knew the opportunity they wanted, they understood if it was a real possibility to go for, they framed it, and while also doing that, they worked to find others who also were trying to build that mission. They made sure that the parties were on the same mission, not just that they wanted an additional mission to have.

This became my guiding principle for defining my own way of living. I care about people who influence each other because they want to work around each other on the same specific missions they hope to accomplish at that point in their careers. I don’t get upset at others who aren’t on the same mission or when a job doesn’t align with my mission – I let those opportunities go. When I find the right people, every time there is much more scope than I could ever dream up from a chart or job tree or headcount because the right people coming together creates infinite possibilities for impact. The right people expands scope often in areas we did not even think of, maybe not even in the same org, same company, and may require partnership.

Influence Is Scope, Its Own Reward, And Magic

One of the most influential people I know manages zero people.

He has a lot of influence as a distinguished engineer. While tenure and knowledge is one way to build influence, even the simple act of letting a person borrow a pen builds influence. It is surprisingly easy to build influence after analyzing who you have influenced and why you were successful.

While one can build influence by giving people money or knowledge that is a slippery slope as money is not infinite and neither is knowledge. There are ways to build influence (and in tandem scope) that do not involve money or committing people or headcount. The most powerful influence is done through giving others your time in a way they perceive as valuable even if to you it is on a simple ask that takes 30 seconds to complete. Changing one line of code can be the “the borrowed pen.”

If you are not sure if the person you are giving your time to perceives it as valuable, you have two choices: (1) keep trying to convince them your time is valuable or (2) understand what they do perceive as valuable and decide if you want to get on board with that. (2) is always going to be the easier option. (1) may work but may take longer or never happen.

You may hear me say “I do not believe I should be judged by the number of people I manage” and this is true for a few reasons. I would hope both you and I collectively influence a lot more people than that, and we are all limited by the same fleeting resource – our time. The quality of what even two people can accomplish is based on how much time they spend with each other regardless of whether they are in the same reporting chain or not. More people does not equate to more quality – of life, of work, of integrity and substance.

How can you measure the impact you have on someone’s life? Whether someone reports to you or not, you can give them your time. If you manage less people, this means you and those people collectively have more ability to influence outside of their domains almost in an infinitely flexible way whereas if you manage a lot of people it is hard to influence outside of your portfolio or domains. I used to say “I hate headcount as currency.” and I still do. That statement was one I said after I saw series of promotional docs at another company where a factor of a manager’s success was based on, how many people they had managed. It is absolutely the worst way to goal a manager and also to judge the quality of a person or a team’s influence especially in times like right now. It tells me nothing about what real impact the people a manager was responsible for had, the quality of that manager for their people – and it makes it seem like that manager’s responsibility didn’t extend beyond their own team to the broader team. It institutionalizes “More headcount equates to more pay!” and is a problem.

It’s important to look at the opposite end of the spectrum to get perspective – those who have the least amount of influence – what qualities do they exhibit? Often it’s that they do not know how to support others vocally, perhaps they do not spend their time trying to share the results or successes of others. They do not recognize the time spent where others have gotten today on both sides of a conflict – they only spend time on where they have been. I mentioned that you do not need to be a manager to build influence or have it – you only need to recognize where others have spent their time and work to appreciate that deeply.

Scope will find you because you become an amplifier of where success happened and you will be turning it away to protect your personal time.

At Peace with My Scope

I will never judge someone for wanting something different or more – we all have needs – go for what you deserve absolutely. But more importantly, go for being around people who will champion you vocally regardless of whether there is a reward or promotion involved. Be the lost pen they needed to find. Be willing to lend each other to those who need a pen.

And never see yourself as anything less than the impact you want to have.

I realized that the simplicity that I want in my life comes from a place where trying to meet the bar of others, was what got in the way of my own proudness for those I had worked with and what we had accomplished in games. There is no place for judgement in the amazing work done by those I have worked with and the projects we knew had impact in the last 20 years – at Thrust, Ker-Chunk Games, Mattel, Amazon, at Take-Two.

I know where my bar is. The world tries to put a price on that, but the reality is, it’s priceless when the right people find each other. If all I accomplish from here on out is improving how I speak to and with others to influence a fraction better than I did yesterday and keeping what I have today, nothing more, I will already have lived and accomplished enough.

I hope for the privilege of having tomorrow, eternally grateful for the tomorrows I’ve already had.

Header Image Credit by NASA from the James Webb Space Telescope released in July 2022. More images can be found on Flickr. This is the Carina Nebula where previous telescopes like Hubble could not display hidden baby stars, the JWT telescopes unveiled these early stars with this new, updated, scope.