The Right (and Wrong) Stuff
Carter Cast
PublicAffairs, January 2018

Nearly a quarter century ago Carter Cast seemed to have it all together: he had a first-class education, an all-American athletic career, and was a very bright and energetic rising star on the fast track at a Fortune 100 company, PepsiCo. But blissfully unaware of how negative perceptions were shaped, he was stunned when called into his boss’s office, and told he was “unpromotable” because he was “obstinate,” “resistant,” and “insubordinate.”

Baffled, scared, and embarrassed, that defining moment led to Cast’s years-long effort to try to understand why he came so close to going off track, discovering that what he saw as idiosyncratic was actually widespread. His research shows that 98 percent of people have at least one derailment risk factor and that half to two-thirds actually go off the rails. More often than not, people get fired, demoted, or plateau not because they lack the “right stuff,” but because they let the “wrong stuff” act out. Derailment often afflicts talented people who are either unaware of a debilitating weakness or an interpersonal blind spot, or are arrogant enough to believe that feedback doesn’t apply to them.

Cast’s experiences and research led to five defining archetypes—Captain Fantastic, the One-Trick Pony, the Solo Flyer, Version 1.0, and the Whirling Dervish—that express traits that cut across gender and every level of seniority and that play out everywhere, from big corporations to small law firms, from education institutions to raw start-ups. He shows how these archetypes fail and succeed, and how to recognize blind spots that can lead to downfall. He provides ways to improve self-understanding—digging into topics like values, needs, and motives—and provides the reader with new ways to take charge of his or her career.

About the Author

Carter Cast, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, was selected by his students three years running to receive the Faculty Impact Award. When not teaching, Cast is a venture partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital, where he invests in early stage technology companies such as the Dollar Shave Club and Honest Company. He is a lead mentor for TechStars Chicago, one of the country’s leading technology start-up accelerators, and has been featured in “The Accelerators,” a Wall Street Journal forum in which start-up mentors discuss strategies for and challenges of creating a new business. Cast’s writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He has been a guest on shows on Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC and Fox. Prior to his academic and venture-capital career, Cast was the chief executive officer at Walmart.com. During his tenure, Walmart.com became the third-highest-volume e-commerce company, behind Amazon and eBay. Before his career at Walmart, Cast was an officer and part of the launch team for Blue Nile, Inc., the leading online diamond and jewelry retailer, now a publicly traded company. Prior to that, he was vice president of product marketing for Electronic Arts, launching products such as The Sims. Cast started his career at PepsiCo, where he derailed early on before recovering to become director of marketing in the Frito-Lay division.