Are You Ready To Become Obsolete

“how fast do you learn?”

Skills Obsolescence Hits Everyone

You will have to take this seriously.

How do you do it?

  • Software engineering

New tools like Ruby, Python, Scala, R, and Hadoop didn’t even exist five years ago.

If you are a Cobol or Java programmer, you have to keep up or you’ll suddenly find someone right out of college applying for your job.

Remember the “data processing” professionals from my days at IBM?

While many of them were fantastic software engineers, they feel like dinosaurs today.

  • Marketing

Today if you don’t know Salesforce, Marketo, Hubspot, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Analytics, Pinterest, and Facebook you really don’t know how to market your company any more.

Digital presence, social media, persona analysis, and analytics are now core to all marketing professionals.

  • Engineering

If you work in product design, you have to understand micro engineering, robotics, software, and the ever-increasing role of mobile, gigahertz RF products, and battery technology.

  • Sales

If you aren’t up on mobile tools, CRM, and general technology trends you may not even know what to sell and how to position it.

  • Teaching and education

What role should technology play?

How do you use new tools in the classroom?

Does flipped learning work?

Lots and lots of new ideas hit this industry every year.

  • HR

There are so many new issues for HR people today (technology, globalization, Millennials, engagement, retention, social learning, social recruiting)

One of the most vital skills is what is often called “learning agility.” Learning Agility, a term coined by psychologists, simply describes your ability to rapidly learn new things.

How Do You Continuously Reinvent Yourself?

So suppose you are one of these people who think you’re going to replenish half your skills in the next 3 years. How do you do it?

Read as much as you can

Today tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the web in general are rapidly becoming curated reading systems. If you subscribe to the people and topics you like, you will start to see articles and news on your industry which will rapidly bring you “into the market” and help you see what is going on and what you need to learn.

Be a voracious reader. Read everything Get your hands on: The New York Times (Sunday), WSJ, Economist, HBR, and every HR magazine out there. Have an e-reader device and buy books almost every week or two, often for only $10 – just to keep up on topics.

Feel you are important. Do not read every word of every piece, but read enough to keep comfortable that you’re current. And take notes on the device and try to put your references into Evernote or another tool to keep track.

  • Get to know experts around you

There are lots and lots of gurus around you – and they usually love to share what they know – always willing to talk with people who want to pick their brains on some part of HR or technology.

I was just at a meeting last week and sat at lunch with a guru in recruitment technology – once I asked her a few questions she just opened up and educated me about a ton of new sourcing tools and technologies I had never heard of!

Take an expert to coffee and just ask questions. Every company is filled with senior engineers, sales people, managers, and functional leaders who would love to talk with you. Take them to coffee and just ask them to fill you in.

Not only will they help you understand your own domain, but even more importantly they will give you the “big picture” about what’s going on in your space.

Often the problem you may have in your careers is not understanding the detailed skills, but the big “transformations” coming.

  • Take time to play around with new stuff

You all have things in your professions that are new – new tools, new approaches, new models, new technologies. Today you can often download or try them for free. Do it!

“Playing around” with Pinterest.

Play around with new solutions as well. If you’re reading and staying up in your market, you’ll see other companies doing your job in new ways. Try what they’re doing at your place – it might work. One of the most important career advice is “watch for the changes around you.” Your job or profession may be undergoing rapid change, and you may not see it.

Think about the medical profession. I met with a robotics expert and discovered that the field of surgery is likely to become highly automated within the next five years. If you’re a doctor and not keeping up with robotic surgery, you may find yourself without a career in 10 years. In fact, “robotics” is coming to every field we work in – so rather than worry about, just learn about the new automation tools coming and use them.

  • Go to industry conferencesAs much as they often wear you out, industry conferences are among the most important transformational learning experiences you can find. A good industry conference brings together thought leaders, experts, great practitioners, and vendors all in one place. In only a few days you can listen to presentations, meet experts, and visit vendors. Every professional should attend at least one major industry conference in their domain every year. It is well worth the time.
  • Take courses. Yes real ones.Sometimes you may need a real “refresher” on a topic, and that may require taking time to attend a real course (online or in person). For example, about ten years into my career I took a three day course on large account selling. That course stuck with me for the rest of my life. The principles I learned there are enduring strategies I would never have learned on my own.In my case I also realized several years ago that I needed to learn more about modern web technologies. So I signed up for a account and have learned all about HTLM 5, Google Adwords and Analytics, and advanced statistics. Did I really need all that detail? Maybe or maybe not – but I now feel more comfortable with the whole domain.

    Today with so many MOOCs and online courses available, you can take great courses for $200 or less, and if you just put the time in you’ll suddenly find yourself “re-energized” with new stuff to try.

  • Visit YouTube and TedIf you really want to have fun, start poking around on YouTube and Ted in your industry. You will find hundreds of videos by world experts (and some very fun people) showing off what they know. These typically don’t qualify as “courses” or “education” but you will suddenly realize how much you “don’t know” about your own domain.I always tell our analysts that it typically takes two years to fully “grok” a new topic (Does anyone read Stranger in a Strange land any more?). This is not because there isn’t a lot to read – it’s because in every domain there are multiple points of view. For everyone who thinks the next big programming language is Perl, there is someone who argues that Java is taking over the world. These debates and educational discussions are what make you “relevant” and give you “context” in your profession.
  • Ask for developmental projectsAsk your boss or employer to let you try new things. Maybe you’re interested in advanced analytics but you work in marketing programs. Tell your boss you want to spend two days a week doing an analytics project on the reach and effectiveness of your programs. He or she may not want you to stop doing what you’re doing, but with a little discussion you can probably convince him that this little “project” may save the company a lot of money over the long run.If you’re a software engineer and you really want to try a new search algorithm, a new UI design, or a new functional approach ask your boss to give you an assignment to try it out. Managers are often so busy with their own jobs they may not even see the opportunity to try something new.              You can teach yourself something new and bring innovation to your company at the same time.
  • Learn to think expansively. Look for the “Big Picture.”I had a long talk about this issue with one of the SAP executives at dinner this week. What I told her was that my experience shows that one of the most important skills in “learning agility” is your ability to “see the big picture.”Imagine if someone asked you “what do you believe is the most important trend happening in your profession over the next three years?” What would you say? I get this question all the time – so I have taught myself to see the big picture.

    In most cases you may say “well, hmm, I really don’t know.” That is your incentive to get to work. Get out there and read, learn, talk to people, go to conferences, and figure out where your job and profession is going! And then get on that bandwagon to get there first.

  • Change jobs

And finally, perhaps the scariest of all – sometimes you have to pick up and leave the place you work. There are many organizations which become unable to offer you the opportunity to do what you want to do next. While we all want to be loyal to our employers, sometimes we have to jump off the cliff and try something new. I encourage everyone to shop around and interview regularly, just to see how other companies may be “reinventing” the work you do at your current employer.

In my case, I was always scared to death to change jobs – but every transition turned out to be a good thing (with the exception of one). I went from Exxon to IBM to Sybase to a startup, to DigitalThink to being laid off. That propelled me to start my own business which brought me to where I am today. Every transition was frightening but gave me developmental experiences beyond my wildest dreams. (So if you ever are laid off, consider it a gift.)

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a headhunter I still know well – sometimes it’s good to just “move to a fast growing company” because there, due to growth alone, you get a chance to expand your career. That motto certainly worked for me.

Yes you have to do your jobs, get your work done, and make your companies successful.

But as you do this, you must also continuously reinvent yourselves. CEOs and HR executives understand this issue more than ever, and more and more now understand that if they don’t offer you continuous learning opportunities you will just leave.


Suresh Shah, M.D., Pathfinders Enterprise


My thoughts are inspired by a Blog by Josh Bersin

Influencer. Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte

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