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Future Proofing Your Career


Lynda Gratton, author of The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here, has an excellent post that summarizes the key points of her new book and outlines the 10 things you can do to future proof your career:

  1. Know the trends that are shaping work and careers.
  2. Learn to be virtual.
  3. Search for the valuable skills.
  4. Become a Master.
  5. Be prepared to strike out on your own.
  6. Find your posse
  7. Build the Big Ideas crowd.
  8. Go beyond the family for support.
  9. Have the courage to make the hard choices.
  10. Become a producer, rather than a simple consumer. 

While all of these are important, a few are particularly critical

Become a Master at the Valuable Skills

I'm combining two from Lynda's list, but think there is real potential here. The key to career success in the future is going to be understanding the kinds of skills that will really be in demand and then becoming a master in those skills. I would start with this list of skills and think long and hard about which of these plays to my core strengths. I would then look at ways I can develop my skills in those areas, possibly for some specific high growth industries, so that I become a hyperspecialist

Be Prepared to Strike Out on Your Own

Lynda calls this being a "micro-entrepreneur."  We are seeing incredible growth in contract work/freelance opportunities that I think is only going to speed up as companies see ways to get more work done better, faster and cheaper by going to freelancers. Just as companies have begun outsourcing key functions that are not core to their business, I think they are going to start thinking about how even core business processes could be outsourced intelligently.  Again, this HBR article on hyperspecialists is well worth a read because it lays out a future that I think is just around the corner and that lends itself to contract work.

Learn to Be Virtual

This is a biggie. Work is global and the rise of tools that allow us to work from anywhere is having a huge impact on how things get done. The recession only accelerated this process as companies and individuals looked to reduce travel costs by using video chats, instant messaging and other social media tools to fuel collaborative work across space and time. Those people who understand how to use these tools effectively will be in the best position for the future. 

Build Your Networks

Lynda suggests three networks that will be necessary for the future--your "posse," the "Big Ideas Crowd" and those "deep restorative relationships" that will support you throughout your life and career. 

I think we're looking at a couple of different types of people in your "posse." First are those people who can mentor and advise you. The second are people with skills and knowledge that complement your own. This is particularly important for micro-entrepreneurs. Find people who have complementary skill sets so you can work together to find opportunities. This is the way that virtual ad hoc work will be done and the better you are at forming a network of people who complement your skills, the more opportunities you will have. 

The Big Ideas crowd is also important. These are people who stimulate your thinking, who can be a crucial source of inspiration. This crowd should ideally be people who are NOT in your line of business. They should be people who think differently and come from different industries and occupations. Don't fall into the homophily trap

Keep Learning

Although not specifically on Lynda's list, lifelong learning is critical to future proofing your career. It is the learners who are going to rule the world because they will be in the best position to see trends and find opportunitities in those trends. 

Additional Resources


The Positive Professional Development Day Camps are filled as of yesterday but I'm starting a waiting list in case anyone ends up dropping out. If you're still interested in attending, fill out this form and I will add you to the list. You can also complete the form if you are interested in attending, but can't make these particular dates/times. Depending on interest, I may look at scheduling additional sessions


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Great points, all of them, but I particularly love the point about the homophily trap. It's so easy to fall into, and really limits chances for both personal growth and expanding into new professional roles and opportunities. The future of work is not just virtual and flexible - it's adaptable to filling needs quickly, with no concerns about "whose job it is".

These are all great points, but the one line that stands out is:

"We are seeing incredible growth in contract work/freelance opportunities that I think is only going to speed up as companies see ways to get more work done better, faster and cheaper by going to freelancers."

Therein lies the biggest problem I face whenever I've considered going back to freelancing (which I'd love to do): most companies are looking for FASTER and CHEAPER when they use a freelancer, so the hourly (or project) compensation is often terrible compared to full-time positions I've held (and have now) doing the same type of work, and on top of that, you lose all employer healthcare and retirement fund benefits, so earning a higher hourly rate as a freelancer is even more crucial to your long-term survival, since now you have to completely cover both of those items out of your own pocket.

Additionally, the "faster" part of the equation borders on ludicrous at times. There seems to be no respect whatsoever for the notion that you might have a life and family outside of your work. I've had clients call me on a Friday afternoon with large projects that they want completed by Monday morning, with the attitude of "we can always get someone ELSE to do it if you're not available", implying that you'll lose any future work from them if you're not willing to be at their every beck and call. "Sorry, kids, we have to cancel Billy's birthday party at Disneyland this weekend since client X just called with a big project with an extreme deadline, and I can't afford to lose them".

Furthermore, whenever I frequent freelancing web sites/services, I'm appalled at how prevalent the "race-to-the-bottom" is in terms of the hourly or project rates I see as freelancers desperately and progressively lower their rates in an effort not to be perpetually underbid by competitors equally desperate for projects and new clients.

I think all these so-called freelance "opportunities" are great if you don't mind working for peanuts, are covered by someone else's health insurance policy, have no children, never make weekend travel or family plans, and can rely on an inheritance for your retirement.

"Stuck"--all EXCELLENT points here and I'm hearing more of these kinds of complaints every day. I'm not sure what the answers are, but I think these are conversations we should be having about how to stop this race to the bottom. I believe there can be great opportunity in micro-entrepreneurship, but not when it's abused by the clients as it seems to be. How to create a different situation though?

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