Are you ambitious, or HUMBitious?

by Keith Ferrazzi

Today’s most successful careerists see every relationship they have as a source of new information and expertise. They consciously seek out relationships that can teach them more and are very open-minded about who might fall into that category.

Because they're savvy at tapping the knowledge of an entire network, they’re the ones who move steadily, confidently forward as the world spins through ever-faster cycles of change.

On a recent Social Capitalist call, Bill Taylor, author of Practically Radical and co-founder of Fast Company, gave exactly this quality a great name:


The term originated in an IBM study that sought to identify the traits of their most high-impact employees. Turns out that ambition alone is mediocre; ambition plus intellectual humility is the winning combination.

Here’s what Bill had to say. It’s about continuous learning, but it’s also about leadership:

"IBM did a study a few years ago trying to address the simple question of what distinguishes the technologists, engineers, and leaders at IBM who have had a really huge impact on the company from other engineers and technologists, who, while excelling, haven’t had that same kind of impact.

They were looking for that type of mindset, work ethic, and approach to life that distinguished those who are really successful and have an impact from those who are less so. The word they tumbled to was humbition. Now what the heck is humbition?

Humbition is made up partly of ambition: being really fired up, energized, and evaluating yourself highly in terms of the impact you might be able to have on your team, in your organization, on the world around you. And then, humbition is also having a genuine sense of intellectual humility.

For me this is the big mindset. They understood that if you want to have an impact today, your job is no longer to be the smartest person in the room, and your job is not to solve every problem and identify every opportunity. Your job is to ask yourself, What does it mean to be a leader? What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? What does it mean to be an impact player in a world where nobody alone is as smart as everybody together?

The people who keep leading and learning are the ones who save themselves. They are not the people who say, 'Oh, I've got this great idea. What’s my top-down style of communication to move it out?' They say to themselves, 'I need a great idea. What is my architecture of participation?' – I took that phrase from the world of software – 'So that I, on an ongoing basis, can tap into the hidden collective genius of my colleagues and all the customers and business partners who surround me? Many people are interested in what I'm doing and would love to share a little bit of their brain power, if only I would make it easy for them to do it.' This is the kind of “group genius” that I speak of. Nobody alone is as smart as everyone together."

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