Staying Relevant in a Changing World
What can you do to ward off obsolescence?
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
- Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues"
The rise and fall of Kodak in 2020 after creating digital photography is a classic fable of business failure. A company invents a new technology but fails to embrace its own technology. As a result, the company dies a slow and painful death, causing thousands to lose their jobs worldwide.
Some of you may not know of the history of The Village Voice newspaper in New York, but The Voice, as it was popularly called, was the creator of the alternative model of newspaper publishing. It represented Greenwich Village and the counterculture in New York with spirit and heart, spotting and revealing trends to wannabes, cognoscenti and literary minds of its time. Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, Tom Stoppard and Allen Ginsberg all wrote for it. Jules Pfeiffer, R. Crumb and Matt Groening were all cartoonists for it.
Something happened at The Voice, and it's the same as what happened at Kodak as well as other companies that manufactured pagers, dedicated wristwatches and disk drives that holds lessons for us all. It is the reminder of the importance of remaining relevant in a changing world.
We are surrounded by examples of this in the business world. Mattel’s Barbie rejected a merger with Bratz. Palm, the original creator of the first personal digital assistant, missed the possibility of this handheld assistant being little more than features on a telephone. On and on are examples of change-yielding obsolescence.
But the same is true for people who miss the necessity to evolve or risk becoming professionally obsolete. They stop paying attention to the weather and get caught in downpours that overwhelm them.
So what can you do to ward off obsolescence?
1. Follow trends in your field. Pay attention to storm clouds of change. There are always signals to changes on the horizon.
2. Gain basic knowledge through Google, reading and watching. There are so many sites that spot trends in business and technology. Start reading and watching. Listen to podcasts. Pay for and attend classes at a university online or in person. Learn the basics. Initially, you may be confused by what you read, but it will soon become clear.
3. Connect with people who are doing the research, writing the articles and pushing the envelope. Ask smart questions derived from your reading, watching and listening.
4. Build relationships with the experts. This doesn’t mean asking people if you can “pick their brain” as though it were a scab. It is a real request for knowledge sharing. Don’t expect all of them to respond. None will if you don’t ask.
5. Put your learning into practice. Tell them what you are now doing and ask for feedback. That adjunct professor or podcast host you asked for advice will love to hear that you put their ideas into action.
6. Adjust and adapt. This is the most important thing step in the process. As you start experimenting in your new field or endeavor, you may notice some of the initial ideas you have or suggestions you receive may not yield fruit or may be slightly off target. What are the newest trends evolving? Like firing a weapon and realizing you fired too high or too low, how can you adjust your sights to the right target?
For those of you who are younger, you may think this doesn’t apply to you. In fact, it does, more than to those who are older. After all, you will have more time and more of a need to adapt than older workers will. There will be many more opportunities to either bury your head in the sand or look out onto the horizon and sail to new lands.
Leaders, those people you are working with who you show scorn for are your future unless you do something different. Avoid getting trapped in the gears of the machine, and plot your own course.
Workers, you chair your own enterprise and loan your talents to companies that pay you. Whether you are an employee or a freelancer, you are responsible for your career, not them. Outsourcing responsibility for your career to others is a fool’s errand. They look out for themselves, not you ... and rightly so.
The last point I want to remind you of is that there are people who will see what you are doing and criticize you or make fun of you. I hope you remember the gist of this Mark Twain quote: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambition. Small people always do that. But the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Find the people who nurture your desires and ambitions.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2200 episodes.
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