“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”
When we talk about technology – and when we talk about change – we often talk about “waves”. Like surfers talk. Except it’s nowhere near as interesting or compelling. Except when we add a tinge of fear to it.
When I first started working in publishing, I realised that I was already redundant. Or was on the way to being redundant. I led the way in implementing online coding in a world full of typesetters, and I started using desktop publishing when it seemed like blasphemy. The change was coming and I was doing all I could to ride the wave was there before me.
Later, at IBM, I learned about process re-engineering. And “restructuring”. And “outsourcing”. Everywhere I looked, I could see disruption, dislocation and relocation. There were people losing their jobs, careers being swept out from under them. It was a time of tremendous uncertainty.
The thing is, it is no different now than it was then. In many ways, we now live our lives in a constant state of disruption. Gone is the fabled “job for life”. Gone is the bond between employer and employee. And gone is the social contract that saw us all working towards a shared future where a “fair go” was on the table for anyone who stepped up. In its place is uncertainty, change and anxiety.
But disruption is not just about fear. It is also about opportunity.
One of the better lessons from my time at IBM was the need to treat a company like a living organism. Every year or two, there would be a restructure. While this was used as a way to reduce costs or shift them to another country, it was also amazingly invigorating. It challenged us to forge new networks in new parts of the business. It forced new and often unexpected ways of working. And it did so when all we wanted was to stay in our comfort zones.
Now, “restructuring” is not always the most pleasant of experiences. And it is emotionally bruising to find yourself out of work suddenly.
Disrupt yourself first
If you take your job seriously – and almost everyone I have ever met does – then the challenge is to make yourself redundant. The opportunity is to disruption yourself, your career and your industry before it happens from the outside in.
This is partly what we are doing with the Disruptor’s Handbook. Despite the name, it is not a “book”. It is a strategy and innovation firm. Our mission is to bring the innovation practices and methods used by startups to the enterprise. And yes, we have handbooks. We make them freely available on our website so that you can apply these practices to your own business. We also have thought leadership eBooks designed to help you make the case for innovation in your business. We also have a series of techniques and approaches that have not been published but are used in our client work. These are shared with clients so that they learn to do what we do – so they know what we know and grow in confidence and capability. We are effectively disrupting ourselves as we grow.
I believe that you must challenge yourself and your industry. Can you do better? Can you reinvent your business?
In challenging yourself this way, it keeps you thinking about the long game. It keeps you focused on the health of your skills and networks, your capabilities and your ability to deliver. And it keeps you focused on your customers and their needs, serving them as they shift and change.
And in a time of uncertainty, making yourself redundant puts you in the driver’s seat of your career. You can choose the timing of your next step and its direction. You can prepare yourself for the changes that are coming. It’s Darwinian. Survival of the fittest.
And this … “innovation fitness” means that you are giving yourself the best next chance possible. Don’t just see the next wave coming, ride it, baby. Ride it.