In these strange economic times, too many good people are unemployed. I’m grateful for my job, yet I know there’s no such thing as complete job security. This is a scary time, yet I fear something more frightful than unemployment.
I’m afraid of obsolescence—becoming obsolete, irrelevant and dispensable.
Every employee, every worker and every professional has an expiration date (and I don’t mean a date with death). Like milk in the grocery store, everyone has a “Best If Used By…” label. Everyone has a skill set, a knowledge base or a network of contacts that will be outdated very quickly in today’s fast-paced world. No one buys sours milk, no matter how fresh it once tasted. Neither do employers hire or retain obsolete workers, no matter how productive they once were.
Being obsolete is not a matter of age or longevity. It’s a mindset. I know long-term employees and also older workers whose ideas are very relevant and marketable. Yet I also know some well-educated, talented young professionals who are teetering on the precipice of obsolescence.
I know a young woman, for example, who scoffs at those who use social media. She thinks it’s a fad and she’s too busy for trivial things. She doesn’t have time for such frivolity. I predict that she’ll soon have more than enough time when she’s looking for another job. Before she re-enters the workplace, though, she’ll need to reinvent herself to become relevant—something she should have done while gainfully employed.
We all know people who don’t yet understand the value of social media. That’s okay—there’s still hope for them because ignorance can be overcome. Who I pity are co-workers, friends and job seekers who are almost obsolete and don’t even know it. They, like dinosaurs, will become extinct unless they quickly learn to adapt to their rapidly changing environment.
So what’s the answer? Quite frankly, I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m certainly no mountaintop guru offering sage advice to others, but here’s what I strive to do daily to be relevant and to extend my shelf life:
- Think strategically. An obsolete person is usually busy working on tactics not tied to strategy. Strategy begins with asking why? and then moving to the tactical implementation of how.
- Use new tools. Combine old tools with new ones. Strategic communications works best when traditional media (TV, radio & newspapers) are supplemented—not replaced—by new media (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.).
- Find mentors and co-conspirators. Some of my best mentors are nearly half my age. I also meet monthly for breakfast with a hand-picked group of exceptionally creative, progressive and relevant people.
- Absorb lots of ideas. Read! Read! Read! I have a tall stack of books I’m reading about the social media revolution. I read blogs by cool people like Chris Brogan. I listen to podcasts by innovative people like Susan Bratton. I also watch YouTube videos and read books and blogs by progressive thinkers like Seth Godin.
- Share lots of idea. I blog to help me figure things out. I comment on others’ blogs to keep their conversations going. I create content in such places as Facebook and Twitter.
You’ll never remain relevant by simply discarding the old and embracing the new. Rather, you’ll be wise if you do both—merge the traditional with the new. Use common sense and cling to ideas worth preserving while simultaneously adopting new and better ways of doing things.
The world will be a better place if you stay relevant. On the other hand, something will be forever lost if you become obsolete.