As young leaders, we are often asked to lead one-off projects, which results in focusing on project-specific value proposition and risk.
To grow into more senior – and ultimately more rewarding – roles, we must broaden our thinking to maximize aggregate value growth for the business and to reduce aggregate risk across portfolios of initiatives and over longer time horizons.
“Bread-and-butter” projects add reliable, marginal value in incremental steps to an existing product portfolio. Comparing a single higher-risk project against a single bread-and-butter project, we almost always see greater risk-adjusted value in the latter. However, delivering greater long-term value for your business requires the courage to invest in portfolios of both high- and low-risk projects. Higher risk projects open doors not only to options for growth of existing products, but to entirely new product category opportunities for the business.
Think of your career not as linear and built only of safe incremental steps, but as one filled with options to be explored and the best options exploited. Some of these options will come with greater risk but as a result may offer greater reward. If you actively manage your career as a portfolio of high- and low-risk options, and continue to make thoughtful, calculated investments in yourself, you will gain greater long-term value and grow faster as a professional and a person.
Neal Gutterson, Ph.D., is Partner & CTO of Radicle Growth, an early stage sustainable ag and food venture fund. He is also former Chief Technology Officer for Corteva Agriscience, where he unified three R&D organizations from the legacy companies. He led the new R&D organization with a commitment to being fanatically focused on the farmer. He is committed to helping organizations design, discover and develop innovations that create value for farmers and their customers and communities in planet-friendly ways.
He is currently a System Board member of the One CGIAR where he brings his passion for enriching the lives of smallholder farmers through collaborative innovation. He is also committed to improving inclusion and diversity wherever he works.
He also works with several technology-based start-up companies in advisory and board roles, helping these companies maximize the value of their technology and competitive advantage by understanding downstream needs and developing new business models.
Neal built his career through a series of progressively more senior research and development roles at ag biotechnology start-up companies from the 1980s through 2000s. Neal served as president, chief executive officer and board member of Mendel Biotechnology from 2007 to 2014 prior to joining DuPont Pioneer in 2014.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.