Written by Russell Johnson
Would you prefer to have lived in an era of ‘jobs for life’ than in today’s age of instability?
Growing up in that era, I nearly had that life. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t get it. Sometimes, the experience you want isn’t the one you should have.
I was taken out of school at 14 because of family health and financial challenges, and that rerouted my whole future. Without that disruption, I would probably have experienced a very routine life.
I’d probably be bored now, and perhaps not even comfortable with change. Instead, life has been a great adventure, richer by far than I could have imagined back then, with the privilege of contributing to richer lives for others. And with some wonderful learning experiences along the way, from Africa to the US, in roles from minister of religion to senior executive and subsequently in the field of career management.
Life today holds remarkable possibilities. Would any of us really 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 was able to identify the implications of some of the 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. But 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 very appropriate for our day and age, doesn’t it? Yet it was published almost one hundred years ago, in 1920.
Old Patterns Die Hard
It’s naturally disorienting to be living in times unlike any in the history of humanity. And 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 examine the smorgasbord of options available to see if any are more attractive?
After all, the old maxim ‘find a need and fill it’ has always been a reliable basis for a viable career. And humanity is still showing no shortage of needs waiting to be met.
Might a Future in an Emerging Field Serve You Better?
Most of us understand that modern civilisation is under-prepared for the kind of situation we face increasingly in the 21st century as a result of the pace of change. And we understand the risks of unintended consequences are growing.
We recognise that although the dangers we face increase over years or decades rather than seconds, urgent action may sometimes be required to head them off before they 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.
Since most people will seek to maintain the status quo rather than embrace the adventure of the new, 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. And they will need experienced leaders.
Yet it’s hard for most of us to see these opportunities because we all stand too close to our own situations to see them objectively and have too limited a perspective on the market as a whole.
The Need for an Age of Agility
Humanity is equipped with powers it doesn’t yet know how to use well, so the societal changes that are needed are happening too slowly at present. The transitions of the Age of Discontinuity need to be supported by an Age of Agility.
In a new industry or organisation, the best roles generally go to the early arrivals.
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. whereas they were formerly rare, they now need to become the norm.
You can help lead this transformation if you’re ready to embrace a more rapid rate of change than others. As you help society navigate its transformation, the opportunities available to you are likely to prove greater than you currently recognise.
A Different Kind of Stability
Most of us quite naturally want stability. If we have families, we want it especially 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 make the commitment 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 organisation or role, both of which can be swept away by change.
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 internalised your security. And the locus of your confidence will naturally follow.
You’ll have an unchanging reference point, which will make your career both more fulfilling and more secure, even amidst accelerating change. You’ll be able to manage that change through tactics, rather than trying fruitlessly to manage your career tactically in the absence of a vision and strategy.
You’ll need to market yourself effectively and this will mean abandoning the methods of the past and replacing them with others suited to today’s world of work. When you do that, you’ll see a new vista.
And your transformation will help accelerate the rate at which others make the same leap.