Written by Russell Johnson
Would you prefer to have lived in an era of ‘jobs for life’ rather than in today’s age of instability?
Growing up in that era, I nearly had that life. It might have been comfortable, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t get it. The comfort zone can rob us of life’s potential for adventure and growth.
I was taken out of school at 14 because of a family health crisis, and that rerouted my whole future. Without that disruption, I would probably be bored now, and perhaps seriously uncomfortable with change. Instead, life has been richer by far than I could have imagined back then, with the privilege of contributing to richer lives for others.
And I’ve had some wonderful learning experiences along the way. In many countries, and in roles from minister of religion to senior executive and subsequently, executive career consultant and strategist.
Life today holds remarkable possibilities. Would any of us want to revert to the limited experiences and opportunities that the vanished world of jobs for life held?
Would you? Really?
The Age of Discontinuity
In the late 1960s, Peter Drucker wrote The Age of Discontinuity. In his incisive way, he identified the implications of changes that were already coming at us like an express train. As change accelerated, other authors followed, and the profession of futurist blossomed.
It’s fascinating territory, and we are living in exciting times, with accelerating changes for the better. However, in human activity, the Law of Unintended Consequences is always at work, and even positive changes can bring negatives in their wake. As H.G. Wells wrote, in his Outline of Human History:
Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.
It sounds quite timely, yet it was published around a century ago, in 1920.
Old Patterns Die Hard
It’s naturally disorienting to be living in times unlike any in the history of humanity. This can lead us to crave stability. Most people, when seeking a career move, still aim to replicate the situation they are leaving, minus the element/s they find unsatisfactory. But this can be dangerous to our individual and collective futures. Might it not be better to consider the whole smorgasbord of our options and to assess whether we are asking too little?
After all, the old maxim ‘find a need and fill it’ has always been a reliable basis for a successful career. Unquestionably, there’s still a vast range of human needs waiting to be met.
Might a Future in an Emerging Field Serve You Better?
Most of us understand that modern civilization is under-prepared for the kind of situation we increasingly face as a result of rapid change. Also, we know the risks of unintended consequences are growing.
We recognize that although the dangers we face increase over years or decades rather than seconds, urgent action may sometimes be required to head them off. Otherwise, they can cause lasting or even irreversible harm.
This issue doesn’t only affect action that must be taken collectively, like eliminating the danger of nuclear war or dealing with environmental degradation. It goes to the heart of the way we conduct our careers and our lives.
Most people will seek to maintain the status quo rather than embrace the adventure of the new. Consequently, there’s usually greater potential in helping to lead society toward the future than in clinging to the status quo of an apparently stable job.
Fields that are currently stable will often shrink and become more challenging over time. Others will emerge and offer great opportunities. Importantly, they will need experienced leaders.
We often stand too close to our situations to see them objectively. Also, we have a limited perspective on the market as a whole. Therefore, it’s hard for most of us to see these opportunities.
The Need for an Age of Agility
As yet, humanity hasn’t learnt to use its powers well. Therefore, the societal changes that are needed are happening too slowly. The transitions of the Age of Discontinuity need to be supported by an Age of Agility.
In a new industry or organization, the best roles generally go to the early arrivals. What’s more, we are living in an era that allows a certain kind of executive or professional to thrive.
It doesn’t require a set of characteristics that have never been seen in the past; it just requires more of them. Formerly they were rare, but now they need to become the norm.
You can help lead this transformation if you are more ready than others to embrace rapid change. As you help society navigate its transformation, the opportunities available to you are likely to prove more significant than you currently recognize.
A Different Kind of Stability
Most of us quite naturally want stability. If we have families, we particularly want it for their sakes. The best way to create it is to have a constant focal point – one based on a compelling vision and a coherent, viable strategy for its achievement.
Once you commit to a new way of operating, you’ll have the opportunity for that new kind of stability. It will be based on your vision and your strategy rather than on clinging to an organization or a role, both of which can be swept away by change.
Furthermore, you won’t have to come to terms with the inevitable loss of confidence that results over time from placing your security outside yourself. Instead, you will have internalized your security. So the locus of your confidence will naturally follow.
You’ll have an unchanging reference point, which will ensure your career is both more fulfilling and more secure, even while change accelerates. What’s more, you’ll be able to manage that change through tactics, rather than trying fruitlessly to manage your career tactically in the absence of clarity and strategy.
You will need to market yourself effectively. That will mean replacing the methods of the past with others suited to today’s world of work. When you do that, you’ll see a new vista.
And importantly, your transformation will help accelerate the rate at which others make the same leap.