So much for “status quo.” As a rash of recent coronavirus-related concerns and subsequent rise of market uncertainty reminds, there are no more static or predictable patterns in today’s workplace. Affirming this principle, researchers at IBM further note that continuous change is the new norm. Ironically, according to them, it’s also more normal than new. These findings were first published more than a decade ago. Whether or not we choose to accept this wake-up call and react accordingly, well . . . that’s a different story altogether.Consider that change is now exponential, thanks to vast advances in technology and communications. In fact, the next 10 years will bring more change than the prior 10,000 years. Moreover, in a globalized, interconnected world, competition is nearly infinite. Like almost any piece of information, whatever you’re looking for — new job, new hire, new vendor, etc. — is just one click or call away.
Just one problem, as Peter Diamandis, head of the XPRIZE Foundation, charged with bringing mankind radical breakthroughs, noted at a recent lecture: Whether you’re discussing careers, lives or businesses, these shifts are no longer linear or predictable, even though that’s how men and women think. As he puts it, “Humans are not prepared to understand the rate of change” going forward.
Worse, adds University of Oregon psychology professor Dr. Paul Slovic, we’re really crappy at stepping outside of comfortable grooves and at estimating the upsides and downs with taking potential risks.
Confronted by change, it’s safe to say that we get three choices: Address it, avoid it or pretend it doesn’t exist. But to stay relevant, especially in a world overflowing with talent, brimming with competitors, and filled with a growing number of unforeseen forces and outside events that promise to reshape our operating reality, the options are clear. Only the first of these choices presents individuals or organizations with a viable option for remaining relevant. In a world where best practices, others’ expectations and competitive landscapes are constantly shifting, value and timeliness are also moving targets. We must change and move with them as well.
How Innovators Succeed
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled wasn’t convincing the world he didn’t exist: It was convincing us that the challenges or obstacles that we face are outside of our power to control or influence.
Look up the words innovation and disruption — two of the most over-used amongst modern professionals — in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and you may be shocked. Innovation is simply the introduction of something new — new idea, new product, new career plan, etc. — while disruption is merely a disturbance that interrupts current routines or events.
Take a second look at your shifting schedule, shifting work priorities, and shifting business or career perspective, and you may be surprised to discover that we’re all innovating and navigating through disruption daily. Technically, this means that the only thing holding most individuals and enterprises from changing, learning and adapting, i.e. staying relevant, is their own thoughts and attitudes.
In other words, if you want to keep up with the pack, let alone pull ahead of it, you’ve got to innovate — and innovation is simply a function of our willingness to change, grow and experiment. To reiterate, the problem-solving process — study the challenges you face, create a plan, take action, learn from the reactions you get, and respond accordingly — works as well for individuals as it does Fortune 500 firms.
The Secret to Getting Ahead
Every year, consulting firms study hundreds of leading innovators — companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google — to see where their competitive advantage lies. Rather than access to greater time, money, talent or resources though, all succeed for one main reason: They employ better solutions for brainstorming, sharing and nurturing new ideas. They speak up, systematically pair talents and resources to projects, and act on them—nothing more, nothing less.
Success seldom happens overnight. More often, for most innovators, it’s a process of incremental, or evolutionary, vs. breakthrough, or revolutionary, gains. Small wins whose total adds up to more than the sum of their parts.
Today’s No. 1 source of innovation is shocking as well: Simply listening to customers. This likely means that you, and the people with whom you interact on a daily basis, are in fact the world’s greatest force for change, and those in an organization most able to make a difference.
As you can clearly see, changing, innovating and staying relevant doesn’t have to be challenging or difficult. But it does require us to stay in constant motion to keep up with competitors or shifts in the market, and to pursue constant self-reinvestments — whether in the form of new education, new contacts, or new learning and experiences — in order to get ahead.
As bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuk, who parlayed an online video series into a multimillion-dollar online retail empire reminds, even successful individuals can’t put instant gratification before long-term goals. Nor can they afford to kick up their heels. Like the rate of change present today, competition is just too fierce, and the sprint to the finish line always ongoing.
Put simply, you can’t afford to sit still or not take risks. More to the point, coronavirus-related market concerns or no, the time to do so is here and now. Plan for bad times in good, pursue constant personal and professional growth and development, and practice using your skills — or employing new and novel ones — before that sturdy roof you built over your head begins falling down around your ears. All are vital strategies for remaining relevant.
When his own business, WineLibrary.com, was at its peak, growing 30% year-over-year for nearly a decade running, Vaynerchuk suddenly did a 180-degree turn, pursuing TV appearances, live lectures and book opportunities, to build his personal brand. The first month, the firm took its first hit in eight years. But for Vaynerchuk, it was one step back, seven forward. He has since parlayed his fame into running a highly lucrative, world-renowned communications, marketing and social media firm that works with the world’s largest consumer-facing companies.
In a recent article for The New Yorker, celebrated author Malcolm Gladwell dispels the notion of entrepreneurs as ‘mavericks.’ By making calculated gambles, such as Vaynerchuk’s, he says, daring businessmen such as Ted Turner and Steve Jobs actually aren’t; they’re willing to wager more heavily, but only after carefully determining where to best place their bets.
Likewise, when MacArthur foundation fellow Angela Duckworth tested kids, college students and military cadets, neither IQ, ambition or aptitude proved as great a predictor of success as resilience — the ability, after trying and failing, to bounce back. And, at Harvard University, first-year MBA candidates are now required to complete hands-on job training in addition to hands-on learning, with dynamic decision-making skills and firsthand experience seen as equally essential complements to classroom learning.
In other words, you don’t have to be particularly smart, talented or brilliant to innovate — just practical. Even the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. have rethought what it means to prepare warriors for every kind of battlefield based on these insights. Its Resilience Training program now teaches hundreds how to prepare for the stresses of everyday life and careers as much as combat. Key cornerstones are learn to think positively, objectively and like a freestyle musician, improvising as you go, taking cues from your environment or audience, and improving as you compose new lyrical paths.
Follow a similar path, and you’ll never be caught flat-footed and you’ll always be future-proof.
Adapting to Change
The moral of the story? Consider the obstacles before you. Create an action plan. Execute on it. Study the results. Revise accordingly.
In all cases, just keep pushing forward, think three steps ahead and don’t hesitate to regroup when you meet with setbacks. Therein lies the almost laughably secret to staying successful, and relevant, in a rapidly-changing world. Plan ahead and prepare accordingly, keep your eyes and ears open, learn as you go, and don’t be afraid to course-correct. The greatest obstacles to our success? Our own self-imposed misconceptions, or unwillingness to budge. | AC&F |
Hailed as the world’s leading business strategist, award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of “Think Like a Futurist”; “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty”; and “Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap.” He is also the president and CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. His website is AKeynoteSpeaker.com.