Today, changes happen much faster, more radically, and more definitive. Companies like Sony, Blockbuster, Barnes&Noble, or Nokia got to experience that in a more dramatic and painful way recently. Regardless of the fact that all of these corporations have many extremely smart people working for them, they still didn’t manage to predict what was coming their way on time.
So what is the best way to reinvent yourself? It’s a bit like driving a race car at a 24h race: inevitably you’ll have to take care of some maintenance during the race, change wheels, fill up the tank, clean your helmet to ensure optimum view, do a cross check – all to minimize the chance of a breakdown. But even here things can go wrong occasionally: one of the mechanics doesn’t fix all the bolts of a wheel, the pit stop takes painfully long, competitors overtake while you are stuck in the box, or worse, a serious defect is discovered that ends your race. How fabulous would it be if we would not have to go into the pit box; If we could do all the maintenance while continuing to drive without ever stopping the car? We would be a strong contestant for winning the race, assuming we don’t already drive on an inferior engine when the race begins.
When it comes to personal careers and what your specific discipline requires from you in order to be successful there is no choice – adjustments and maintenance have to be taken care off without stopping. Otherwise the race could be over before reaching the finish line. Continuous innovation over a lifetime, regardless of your profession and regardless of past performance, is critical. You must choose to change. Now, arguably learning additional skills, going on extra training sessions etc., will help you to establish a more solid and robust overall package against the battle of becoming irrelevant.
Broadening your capabilities never hurts, but that still just seems to be a catch-up strategy. The real magic lies in truly innovating yourself, and innovation is always driven by understanding a need for something that no-one really is aware of having the need for yet. It used to be that you only had to manage momentum. Nowadays, you have to create your own future. And that means change. It is about changing and tweaking something to make it behave or work in a different, new, and better way. It requires creative thinking since it is about approaching old things in new perspectives. So, just as much as industries and product categories are trying to figure out what the next big thing will (have to) be, you need to figure out what the professional (whether it is on a leadership or executional level) of the future in your specific category should look like: What skill sets, offerings, type of attitude, types of relationships, degree of involvement, degree of interaction will your audience (customer, client, guest, investor, boss, employee, member, etc.) request from you in the near and not so near future?
Innovation consultancies (and which marketingrelated business nowadays doesn’t claim to be just that?) initiate complex and expensive programs for their clients to figure out the next ground-breaking opportunities for their businesses. And sure enough they apply smart techniques that require deep involvement and experienced staff members to do market analyses, brainstorming ideation sessions, and consumer (target audience) research. Unfortunately most of us do not have the funds for paying an innovation consultancy for a program to innovate ourselves (neither are we in a position like Conan who can afford to mess around for a year waiting for what’s next). For those of us who are not graduates or in the spring of their career, risk taking is not an easily taken option – we have to provide for our families, pay our bills, make sure our retirement funds keep growing. It is difficult to radically break out of our established role, but what we can do is look beyond our own sphere and apply what we see elsewhere to ourselves if relevant.