Disruption is either going to happen to you or because of you
A little secret
Here’s a little secret ya’ll, without reinventing, reimagining and continual learning, the world is moving by you. You can’t sit still.
It is kinda scary, thrilling and really exhausting at times. However, if your not exponentially learning and growing, your losing your relevancy in your career. That might be a downer for some, although I hope it will be equally exciting for others.
This week is focused on taking time for YOU! Whether your just starting out, midway through your career or post career, exercising your ol’ bean is one of the keys to longevity and fulfillment.
Accidental Continuous Learner
When I was in my undergraduate studies, I learned about finance, strategy, marketing, quantitative analysis and a host of other business subjects. To balance that out, I chose liberal arts for my electives and spent really my whole first year on liberal arts.
I learned that this wasn’t actually a typical choice, for a business curriculum back in the day, but these courses taught me about logic, rhetoric, philosophy, psychology and things that I felt I needed for leading others in the future, as well as, solving business problems.
Looking back, I am so thankful I did that because it gave me a multi- dimension perspective of critical problem solving and an entry into how people are motivated and engaged, which wasn’t about involve spreadsheets and calculations (gasp 🤭). This curriculum taught me about using logic, rhetoric, engagement, and challenging the status quo, as well as, inspiring others to band together in strong teams that focused on solving complex challenges and then implementing those solutions.
This duality, if you will, also helped fuel my curiosity and become a life long learner.
Over my career
I have had many different roles in different companies, that have forced me to continually disrupt myself by learning and adding new skills. Keeping up with the change in business and technology has exponentially shifted the rate of learning for me, and I would say all of us.
Early in my career, at my job at a bank, while in business school, my VP of Mortgages would ask me to take on little side projects. He would always start by “your in college and must be smart, I would like you to ….”. Looking back, they were mostly all technical in nature, however he wanted to see how the technology would apply to different business areas.
The first project was the early days of ATM’s (yes I am that young 🙄). I was asked to figure out how to integrate and work on automating the paper reports, so we didn’t have to have banks of data entry personnel (sound familiar? Business are still tackling this today). In those days, every once in a while there would be a withdrawal at a foreign machine that wouldn’t get applied to your account. The root cause was a manual data entry mistake, that cost money and the bank wanted to increase accuracy through automation and quality. (Anyone still see that theme today? 😳)
From there I worked on numerous other things, from audits and controls, secondary loan market, the first systems security protocols and all the way to implementing our first mortgage banking system, from one stand alone PC. When I left the bank I was running their IT organization and had, not only deep business acumen across the bank, but also deep technical experience.
I learned so many added skills, like structured plant, infrastructure, Cableing (pinning out cables with soldering irons – ouch 🤦♀️), telephony design, asynchronous networking etc… I had no idea how this was going to help me in my career, I just was super curious and was always willing to learn.
Looking back, I had disrupted myself without really knowing, by being this strange business creature that knew technology, from programming, hardware, to how it enabled the business. I also knew how to utilize the technology to maximize the value of the investment and translate that into business language.
This became the formula for all the roles I would play over my career: learn the culture + learn the business + learn the technology + engage people = maximize business value and engagement.
Whether I ran a large operation, built IT organizations, transformed business areas, worked in telecommunications or my current role now, I apply very diverse skills and work at keeping up with shifting markets and technology that will require different skills and how I need to disrupt myself to stay relevant. The other benefit is that you can be relatable to the teams you lead and they can also teach you a lot of stuff. About 5 years ago, one millennial taught me Facebook and it opened up a whole new world. (See you can teach old dogs new tricks 🙄)
All that probably sounds great, and for me it was totally unplanned. I made tons of mistakes, got in over my head from time to time, and had to learn how to ask for help.
However, given the pace of change today, what used to be a two year learning ramp is now about 3-6 months that you need to be adding new skills or subject domains to your toolkit.
Whether it is in technology, business, leadership or all something else, you have to take time to stay relevant by building your transferable skills tool kit. You should feel challenged and stretched to know that your really learning something new. If your not growing, by new experiences and learning new things, your in a danger zone in your career.
Years ago, you would leave work and you were done. You uplifted your skills on the job, and the training your company sent you to. However, it was very focused to enhance the job you had, not the job you would want later on. Rarely was it centered on career growth or soft skill to become a leader of people.
When companies started to rapidly change by globalization, cutting costs, down sizing, merging, acquiring or implementing new technologies, many were left behind with little transferable skills and had to be retrained.
To be fair, the rapid changes in the last 10 years have only sped up and I think employers and employees are just catching up by transforming their programs and helping employees grow transferable skills.
It’s a two way street. Employees have to invest in their skills and employers should support that.
Your Toolbox of Skills
When your looking at the market and the skills required, as well as, your current company’s strategy, what are the skills you see that will be needed? How are you then taking an inventory of your current skills and doing a gap analysis? What is your plan to close the gaps? We all have gaps, even at the highest levels.
Here are some skills areas to look at:
– Business Acumen – do you know your company’s strategy, how it generates revenue, what the products they sell are market share, how the business flows from a sale to support and what the margins on the products are flowing to a net income? To name a few.
– Culture: do you know the heartbeat of the company, as well as, are you building a relationship network to maximize your ability to get work done!
– Leadership skills: even if your not a formal leader, leadership skills come into play. How is your EQ, what is your communications style, can you inspire through a common vision, can you lead solutions by engaging the team, can you coach?
– Technology: do you know how the technology enables the business and what the technology roadmap is? What are the next level skills in using the technology to maximize business value? Do you know how technology is evolving in your industry?
– Process: what are the skills that you need to solve process issues. Do you need Lean/Six Sigma, project management, business analysis, business architecture skills?
-Analytics: what are the skills for advanced data modeling / data science with skills for Machine Learning, natural language processing, RDA/RPA, Business Process Management. Do you know how to analyze data to drive business decisions?
There are lots of hard and soft skills to learn, the important thing is to engage with the world around you and look for the trends in what is next. Also, look to your network and also for help, as well as, your boss for stretch assignment etc..
How to keep growing
To disrupt yourself, set a plan to keep learning and apply a Growth Mindset. The more fixed you are, the more you will exponentially fall behind and will not have relevant skills you need in the future.
There are so many free services that will teach you just about anything.
Some ideas on what I do to learn something of interest or an emerging new trend. This example is about blockchain, which I was reading a lot about how it was going to be a great capability in healthcare for secure transactions. It was not making sense to me so I went on my journey to learn. This is super basic and not meant to be technically detailed.
1. Interest in learning blockchain
2. Went to YouTube and searched for blockchain 101
3. Watched a video, learned that it was conceptually like accounting and posting a ledger transaction digitally and securely. It was the underpinning of cryptocurrency. The key was the order of operation and how it tracks with a special key for security. It is distributed without copying.
4. Watched some more videos, some conceptual applications in healthcare
5. Obtained a base line understanding to be able to have a conversation about it and then have had conversations with technologist to learn even more.
I have followed these steps on learning machine learning, executive presence so I could be a better coach on this, or brushing up on making pitches.
I use LinkedIn learning, YouTube or just google searches. I have also used iTunesU. The challenge I face, which is a great one, is finding the best source for the information I am seeking.
Here’s the great news, access to learning is exponentially easier in today’s world than when I was in my early career. I remember one time I had to learn TCP/IP and make a recommendation to use Ethernet or token ring. My sources were the library, the local book stores and this one person I knew in the home offices technology department. Now, I could have learned this all on the internet without leaving the house.
The other side of this is you have to make time to invest in yourself. With a crazy life swirling around you all the time, commitments with family and work, I know it is hard to carve out the time
But here the thing, WHAT IF you don’t? the downside of not disrupting yourself is that you will be comfortable in your career and something will change and you won’t be relevant with the change. I also find that when you control your learning, you can sail through the winds of change much easier. When I am open to learning, I find I am more open to change.
That has always been my WHY continuous learning has been a top priority.
Commit to learning and Shine Brightly!