Thomas Friedman stands on stage and delivers a simple, but potentially terrifying message. We have lived to see the end of average.
What does he mean? Well, he means that the way the economy used to work was based on industrialization. We worked hard to make everything more efficient, to measure quality using Six Sigma, to divide work into repeatable (boring tasks), and we created a race to the bottom to see who could create the least expensive, commoditized goods possible.
In doing all of this, we created a system in which school was designed to create discipline, stifle creativity, and encourage us to do the minimum to reach the bar set for us (aka GPA). Come to find out, that kind of schooling creates the same kinds of actions in the workplace. We learn our job description and we do the least amount possible to stay in our job without being fired. We avoid risks whenever possible and make sure not to get noticed so we can’t be on the hook when something or someone fails.
I don’t know why it’s surprising to anyone then, that the average Millennial comes out of college without the hard or soft skills to be immediately valuable in the workplace. While colleges aren’t doing their jobs, companies continue to shy away from large spends on training and development at the bottom levels of organizations (if they spend at all). And the workers keep on doing whatever it takes not to get fired. It’s like a magic cycle that never ends.
And so, we circle back to Thomas Friedman’s point. We’ve reached the end of average because companies have started to realize that all the people who are doing jobs that have a right answer, don’t require creativity, and are repeatable… well, they can be replaced with software, computers, robots, and more efficient processes.
In other words, average jobs are being replaced not with people, but with automation, outsourcing, and efficiency.
So if you though you were going to be able to follow the typical path of getting a college degree, being guaranteed a plush job, putting your life on cruise control for the rest of your career as you buy a house, car, have 2.5 kids and a dog, then retiring to your beach or mountain house with a comfortable 401k…
Yeah, let’s just say that’s not the world we live in anymore. Average is over, and that’s not all.
The world of work is changing rapidly, and more and more I find myself answering the question, “What’s happening in the world of work, and what do I need to do to become (or stay) valuable to my employer?” Or the corollary, which is, “Given all of the rapid change going on in the most innovative companies, how do I keep up with all of this craziness and attract the top talent to my organization?”
I’m not going to provide all of the answers in this post, but I am going to tell you about the major trends I’m seeing and learning about through my coaching work with young professionals, my reverse mentoring with Fortune 500 execs, the world-renowned speakers who know what’s happening around the world, and interacting with young professionals running or working for incredible organizations every day.
My hope is that learning about these trends will help to convince you that:
- The world is changing, fast
- Nobody is guaranteed a job (in fact, quite the opposite)
- I’m here to help you navigate the change so that you can provide unique value as a top performer, whether that’s as an employee or entrepreneur
Trend #1: The Entrepreneurial Mindset
Ask any hiring manager, HR leader, or executive what they’re looking for in a new hire. I’ll wait.
I don’t know what they said to you, but every person I ask this question of says some combination of the following:
- Ability to solve problems
- Creative, innovative mindset
- Communicate their ideas effectively through writing and speaking
- Consultative nature and good listening skills
- Seeks honest feedback
- Constantly learning and look for new opportunities to grow
- Looks outside of her job description for opportunities
- Has a sales oriented mindset
- Can represent the company in any situation
- Knows how to position and market what we do
- Have an intuitive understanding of organizational goals
Aka, organizations of all kinds want people with an entrepreneurial mindset. They want people that are hungry. As I put it on Twitter the other day, companies want:
“A pinch of swagger to build confidence, a dash of humility to build trust, and a heap of hustle to make things happen.”
It’s time to start positioning yourself in terms of how entrepreneurial you are.
Trend #2: You Must Be Different, Better, and Special
This gets back to Thomas Friedman’s point that I used to open this article. If average is over, what happens next?
Well, to begin with, there was never a time when everyone could be above average. That simply goes against the entire definition of averages.
Now, the point is that there is no bar. There is uniqueness. There is art. There is different. There is better. There is special. There are markets of one.
If you want to make a great living and be a highly valued employee or entrepreneur, you have to be different, better or special in some way.
As I’ve shared before, Seth Godin has known this for sometime now. As he says, “You can be the best in the world at anything you want, as long as you define world the right way.” The most valued professionals will figure out who they want to serve, why they care, and how they’re different, better, or special. That can be you, and you can be paid handsomely if you can master this alone.
If you cannot figure this out, you can expect to be constantly on the edge of layoff, being fired, or your contract being non-renewed. Nobody wants that, so choose to be different.
Trend #3: Learning and growth are a lifelong activity
Look back across history. Think of five people who you admire, aspire to be like, or have learned about. Five that come to mind for me are Albert Einstein, Theodoore Roosevelt, Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Yes, they’re all men for me, so I clearly need to read more biographies on females, but disregard that for the moment because that is not the point here.
What do these men have in common? Well, for one, they are known across the world to this day. Which leads me to my next question, which is, why are they so well known? I believe there are many answers, but I would venture to say that their shared habit of life long learning almost certainly had something to do with it.
In a world where information is more readily accessible than ever before, lifelong learning is no longer an option. The world is changing at an ever-faster pace with every passing day. Men like Einstein and Franklin helped accelerate us on the path, and people like Elon Musk and Larry Page show no signs of slowing down.
In today’s world of work, your learning and growth will need to be a habit you maintain over time rather than a four-year college experience you put into a box and climate-controlled storage.
Trend #4: What you say you’ve done has to be proven.
Results, projects, and portfolios are the new resume. Period. Employers have had enough of picking through boring, dry, falsified accounts of your professional experience on blue cotton paper, which you use to “stand out.” Now, it is much easier to simply say:
- Contact info here:
- Three links that show us your potential here:
Boom. Done. And guess what? The two bullet points above will tell an employer 9,000 times more about who you are and what you are capable of than that damn resume you keep handing out.
Here’s the trick… In order to provide links, you have to have done something, built something, written something, or otherwise have a way to prove your worth in a way that tells the story you want to tell.
I would bet more money than I have that that statement makes 80% of people who read this very nervous. Yes, plenty of resumes are still being accepted today, but I’ll let you in on a secret. The people who get hired first are the ones who give their resume and then say, but you could also check out these three links… Get to work or get left behind. That’s the world of work we live in.
Trend #5: Communication + Relationship Skills are more important than ever before
If you could be armed with only two skills going into your first or next job, which two skills would you choose?
Based on 100s of conversations I’ve had with employers, the top two skills you could possible have (across industries, sectors, and job descriptions) are the ability to communicate effectively and to build meaningful relationships. That’s it. If you knew nothing else, these two skills would get you into a job and allow you to add enough value to learn whatever else you might need to learn to be effective.
Here’s the fun part. These are not typically classes we take in college, and they are not typical training courses offered by employers. There is no relationship skills 101 in most business school curriculum. If we take a communications class, it is usually a “Public Speaking 101” or “Interpersonal Communications 101” taught by a future PhD that has never worked in a high performing organization.
If you want to have access to the best jobs in the future, you must have the ability to communicate effectively and to build meaningful relationships. If you have these two, then the hard skills and organization-specific methods for getting work done can be learned on the job or on nights and weekends once you’re there.
If you can’t tell from the first 5 trends, the world of work is changing. Fast.
Your grandparents think back on the days of the Great Depression, World War II, and the return of manufacturing jobs and a rip-roaring economy thanks to that war. They remember showing up to work for 40 hours every week, earning over time for hours worked beyond that, and staying loyal to the same company for an entire career (and beyond).
Your parents rode on the backs of their industrial era parents and slid right into jobs in Fortune 500 companies, started businesses that drove economic growth, and lived the new American Dream. Work-life balance became a hot topic as the battle to avoid working all hours of the day began, the tech world got off to a slow start with pagers, car phones, and the Discman. They are working towards the end of their careers only to see the end of mass commoditization and the beginning of mass personalization.
That brings us to you. And me. We live in a very different world than that of our parents or grandparents. We see the environmental effects of our culture of industrialization. We suffer the political realities of constant stalemate and bitter disagreement. The growing population presents ever greater challenges for our food supply, sustainable energy, and standards of living. The many experiments of our past are playing out in the current state of the health of the world.
We live in interesting times. Perhaps nothing is changing as fast as the world of work we now encounter as we leave college and set out to build the foundations of our careers as young professionals.
Despite the rather bleak picture we could paint about the state of the world we live in, the world of work presents real opportunity to tackle some of our biggest challenges. Even more promising is the reality that for those who embrace the change around us, we will have more opportunity than ever before to build meaningful, exciting, and impactful careers.
So, here are the next five trends you need to know if you want to build your own impactful career.
Trend #6: You have to invent your job in today’s world
To tie this back in with the first post in the series, Thomas Friedman made this point in his talk at (co)lab Summit. It’s a trend I’ve seen as well, and his point was that we no longer get to simply find jobs anymore.
In this world where 500 – 1,000 can apply to a job posting within the first 24 hours of it being posted, you have to invent your job. But what does that mean?
Well, it means that you have to come in with a plan. A business or organization posts a job because they think they have a problem they need solving. But what they really have is a set of symptoms that they want to get rid of. Too much new business for their current staff levels, high turnover in the role, desire for a new area of expertise, or someone to manage the people they already have.
More often than not, plenty of organizations are experiencing these same symptoms, but they refuse to or don’t have time to post a job where it’s convenient for you and I to find it. That leaves the door wide open for those people who are able to play to Trend #4 and then go out and pitch the value they can add in a way that gets them hired.
This takes a ton of research, a knowledge of the existing challenges or symptoms the organization needs solved, and an ability to relate your own experience / results to the specific organization. If you can do this effectively, you can create your own job.
More and more that will be the only option. After all, why hire when you can automate? The answer: because you can solve problems that don’t have a right answer.
Trend #7: Community, community, community.
Community. Workers want it. Companies thrive when they create it.
Let me be clear: community is everything in the world of high performing people and organizations. Just take a gander around at the people you admire most. What kind of people do they hang out with? What organizations do they belong to? What do they do in their free time?
As I look around the world of work and interact with so many inspiring (and not so inspiring) execs, young professionals, and teams I see community popping up repeatedly. Thriving young professionals have friend groups, mastermind groups, loose ties, powerful personal advisory panels, industry groups, and, in an ideal world, the hub of all of this is their workplace.
Look at incredible companies like Mailchimp and Zappos. What are they doing differently? Well, for one, they both have this incredible sense of community that they incorporate into their values and strategic priorities. Hell, Zappos is trying to rebuild an entire city (Las Vegas) just to create a better sense of community for its people.
Not lost on me (or hopefully anyone) is the reality that Zappos and Mailchimp are freaking weird places to work. They people are quirky, they don’t wear suits (gasp!), and it’s not for everyone. Cue the loudspeaker: I repeat, it is not for everyone.
Psst… Here’s a little secret: unless you are the Social Security Administration, Google, Facebook, or maybe Amazon, then you’re not for everyone either. If you think you are, you’re probably wrong.
The only way you can find the people (employees, partners, customers, execs, and anyone else you do business with) is by creating a unique sense of community that people can be part of. We all have a certain level of insecurity deep within us that makes us want to be a part of something bigger. It’s inherent in our nature as social animals.
You can play to it, or you can fight it, but winning organizations are those creating community.
Trend #8: What Can Be Automated, Will Be Automated
As software and other technologies become more robust and accessible, anything that is a process will have the potential for automation in the future.
This leaves us with fewer jobs needing to be filled that are task-oriented. More and more, organizations will need their employees to be strategic thinkers, focused on driving progress towards organizational goals through innovative solutions.
The people who say, “I just want to show up and do what I’m told,” will no longer have jobs in the new economy. Computers do what they’re told. Valuable individual contributors that make up high performing teams and organizations solve interesting problems. If that offends you, I’m sorry. It’s just the truth.
Let’s play a game for just a minute. Think about some of the things that would be infinitely more efficient (and perhaps pleasant) if we automated them. Here are a few off the top of my head:
- Departments of Driver Services – self serve stations that use fingerprint and eye scanner technology to verify identity; scale positioned in front of the station for weight; laser for height; automatic scanner for proof of residency documents; license printed on demand; total time to completion: 15 minutes.
- Financial Auditing – What a miserable profession. I don’t care who you are, if you say you like auditing, I think you’re lying. You might like the people, or the clients, or maybe the satisfaction of getting to a right answer… But if you’ll remember right answers = potential for automation. Someone smarter than me will figure this out and it’ll be night night to the industry.
- Checkout at any store – Ok, so it doesn’t take much imagination since this is already well on it’s way. It is almost always more efficient (and more fun) to go to the self-checkout lines when you’re in a grocery store that has them. But I’m talking about walking into a store, picking up what you want, walking out, having your card charged and your receipt emailed. In. Out. Bada-bing-bada-boom.
To anyone in any of these jobs, it’s not that I don’t like you, it’s just that I think you could be doing much more valuable work with your infinite amount of talent and potential. By settling on one of these jobs (and the countless others that can and will be automated), you’re selling yourself short.
You’re also in a race against time. If you’re finding right answers, then you’re racing the clock – will your job be automated before it’s time for you to retire? Will it be automated before you retire but too late for you to pick up a new skill set or transition to a new job? You’re bet is as good as mine. But don’t bet wrong.
Automation will increasingly highlight the education and training gap ever more, which presents a real challenge to the market in coming years. Will the training burden shift to individuals? Will organizations pick up the slack in training quality and quantity? Or will the tech, training, and education spaces come together to provide a better solution than we have ever experienced? We shall see.
Trend #9: Millennials Want Meaning and Purpose
Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but more and more Millennials want a sense of meaning and purpose from their work. This means they want to be able to make a connection between the tasks they perform and the impact those tasks have on real people. Or, they want their work (and lives) to matter. Imagine that.
I’m going to venture out into the great unknown here and make an assertion. People have always wanted to matter. Baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, whatever-they’ll-name-the-next-generation, we all want to feel like we mattered. We just did a very good job of building a school and work system that discouraged anyone from speaking up and stating that openly for far too long.
That’s exactly why we all read the article on the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. Courage, expression, community, happiness, not working so hard at work that matters so little are all themes from that article. Sound familiar?
In this era of mass customization, access to information, and the long tail, we all have a platform to express our true desires and feelings towards work, play, and everything in between. It’s not a Millennial thing, it’s a people thing.
Making the connection between the meaning, the work, and the impact is an imperative for every great leader, organization, and individual contributor from here on out.
Trend #10: People Are More Comfortable Than Ever Flying Solo
High performing Millennials are becoming more comfortable with the idea of working as a freelancer or starting their own business. And why not? Tools that used to be enterprise solutions only available to Fortuen 500 companies are now free. Access to influencers is easier than ever. All it takes is the courage to start, the perseverance to stay at it long enough to get good, and earning the trust to ask for what you’re worth.
If you’re not seeing it, let me use my own life as an example. I worked for one of the world’s largest professional services firms. They probably billed me out at a rate of $175-$300 an hour. I made $25 an hour on the weeks I worked 40 hours; $12 on the weeks I worked 80 hours. If you’re not a math whiz, that’s a big gap.
No, you can’t make up the entire gap the minute you leave a firm like the one I was working at. There’s brand, goodwill, infrastructure, and more advantages to being part of an organization.
But guess what? Overnight, you can pretty much double your earnings if you have some established relationships and you lay some good groundwork before leaving your current job. That earnings increase comes with a boat load of other issues and challenges, but it doesn’t change the reality of what people are seeing when they take the leap.
Quite simply, it’s attractive. And for those that really get good at something, find a market that wants what they’re offering, and then deliver with excellence, they can have five clients paying them 5x what they were making in their old job doing the exact same work in the same amount of hours.
That’s called winning, and that’s why flying solo is so attractive.
For organizations, this means they’ll need to find ways to structure projects in a way that makes freelancers a viable talent option if they want access to the most forward thinking ideas and innovative work flow. For individuals, it means that if you can provide real value, then the sky is the limit. But don’t confuse the sky with what’s easy.
Our story continues, but first let’s check back in on why we’re exploring these 15 trends.
Once upon a time people showed up to work, punched the clock, followed directions, gathered their paycheck, punched the clock again, and then went home to a meal in front of the TV. It was mindless, it was efficient, and it created profit for the company while allowing workers to provide for their families. No one spoke up against the system because it essentially provided for the needs of everyone involved.
Then, one day someone had the brilliant idea to create a pager, then a car phone, then a computer, then a cell phone, then the internet, and then things started changing so fast that none of us could catalog what happened first, or when, or how. Seemingly over night, people started realizing that the world had changed and it was affecting the way we work.
No longer is it enough to show up and follow directions. In fact, quite the contrary. No longer is it ok to simply collect a paycheck and count on a pension when you retire. No, those days are long gone. The world of work has changed forever. That can be viewed as an opportunity or a threat, but either way the world is not slowing down for anyone.
That leaves you with one question: what are you going to do about it?
Trend #11: Attracting and Retaining Top Talent is a Strategic Priority for Organizations, Cities, and Countries… Aka everyone
It is now well documented that the global conversation is shifting towards one of a “war for talent.” This war engages every level of power structures and societal hierarchies, including business and nonprofits, cities and states, countries and regions. There is a now a complex list of players competing for talent, all of whom are trying to figure out the right combination of teamwork and competition to win.
Through all of this, organizations will have to find ever more creative ways to attract and retain top performers internally. Good pay and benefits may be necessary, but not sufficient. Truly talented people will want to feel a sense of purpose in their work, have the chance to work on varying projects, and be openly offered opportunities to make both lateral and vertical moves within the company.
The onus is now on organizations to create ways that engage at all eight stages of the talent recruitment and development process: Attract, Recruit, Hire, Onboard, Engage, Train, Retain, and Reward. Most organizations are still focused on the two areas of hire and reward, but that will not be sufficient going forward.
On the talent end of things, individual contributors who build career capital consisting of skills and their portfolio of proven results will win the day when it comes to intriguing opportunities. For you, Mrs. Ambitious Young Professional, that means it’s time to double down on your technical and soft skills, in addition to immediately developing a way to showcase your past work online.
Trend #12: Complete Transparency is the New Normal
Anyone that is halfway intelligent and most of the way computer savvy can now know almost anything they want about you. Google knows all, and as the big four (Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple) continue to grow, gather data, and reach deeper into our lives, it will become nearly impossible to hide anything about who we are and what we’ve done.
You can react one of two ways to this phenomenon.
The first way is to entrench yourself, similar to the traditional publishing industry. You can do this by constantly updating your privacy settings on all of your social networks. You can censor photos and other content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, and everywhere else you’re hanging out. Untagging that photo of you drinking a beer and removing that post where you checked in on Four Square at the strip bar is one way to go about things. Or…
There is a second way. You could start living the life you want to be known for and not worry about any of that other shit. The reason so many of us sit around worrying about what people will find online is that we’ve done things we don’t want people to find online. The quickest way to solve for that is to form new habits, hang out with people who make you better, and proactively create a life that reflects what you want people to remember you for.
The good news is that this is a two way street. Personal content platforms (blogs, social media, Youtube) mean that transparency is greater than ever before when it comes to the dumb things companies and other organizations do. Two kids who spit in your pizza while working at Domino’s go viral on Youtube and we all stop buying Domino’s for a while. People show up to work at an accounting firm, everyone hates it, and turnover is through the roof, so a couple people blog about it and all of a sudden that firm has a hiring problem.
Companies and young professionals who rise to the occasion will be the ones who see the most opportunity in this age of transparency. It all starts with internal culture – whether you’re an organization or an individual. You internal culture is what’s reflected in your external brand.
Companies with great culture will have that reflected in the world and they will continue to attract the best talent. Talent wants to know what it’s signing up for rather than walking in blind.
Individual contributors who make an effort to learn and grow openly, put a real image into the world, and showcase both their successes and failures will be the ones who land the best gigs. Sincerity and transparency breed trust and respect. Trust and respect land jobs.
Trend #13: Project Based Work is Attractive Work
I recently had a brainstorming session with a senior HR director at a Fortune 500 company. We sat down to talk about how organizations will have to shift their structure to reflect the new realities of what workers want and how often the economy is changing.
We both agreed that siloed work flows and linear career progression will no longer be the norm in the future of work. Instead, well-defined, project-based assignments and hires will become more and more of the norm.
Individuals want to know what they’re committing to when they sign up for a job or assignment. Knowing what success looks like (even if we don’t know how to get there) is one of the single most important factors to reaching goals and maintaining motivation. Having a picture of success allows us to set timelines, and milestones to measure progress, as well as kill points for projects that aren’t working.
Project based work creates major benefit for individual contributors (you). It allows a young professional to develop a portfolio of experience that dives deep on a strong core technical skillset (for example, mine would be coaching and training), while applying that skillset in a broad range of projects to build breadth of experience and high level skills in many areas.
For organizations, this means they can ultimately become more efficient, while maximizing the use of their peoples’ brains and problem solving ability. Processes, repetitive tasks, and problems with right answers can be automated, as we’ve covered in the past two posts. That will free the creative problem solvers (aka everyone in a well-run organization of the future) to tackle actual challenges and opportunities in the organization. Building discrete projects around these challenges and opportunities will allow for the alignment of personal and organizational goals.
Project based work will be win, win, win for organizations and individual contributors who can get it right.
Trend #14: Searching, Finding, Interpreting, and Curating Information is the Secret Sauce of the Future
Access to information, for the vast majority of people reading this article, is no longer a barrier to entry. In fact, I might make quite the opposite argument. Access to information is now debilitating. It distracts us from our most important work, makes us constantly feel as if we’re missing out on something, and draws us back in with push notifications as often as possible.
Umpteen hours of Youtube videos, a gazillion blog posts, 3 gazillion tweets… a day. That’s what we, as people, produce everyday (you can Google the actual stats). Access to information is no longer the problem. No, the real talent lies in what happens after the access.
Searching and sifting through the information is now a crucial skill for all of us. Finding what we were looking for and seeing what we might not have known exists is crucial to getting to the bottom of our desire to learn. Interpreting what we find to apply it to our own situation makes it personal. But the final step in the process is curating the information and teaching it back to the people who need it most.
It is that final skill that will carry the day as we have access to more and more information. The best curators and teachers will have the most influence in tomorrow’s world, which includes the workplace. What are you doing to hone your curation skills?
Trend #15: Personalization is the Future of… Everything
Oh, and yes, I agree with Mr. Friedman. As I quoted at the beginning of the first post in this series, we’ve reached the end of average. We’ve reached a golden age of personalization.
As Seth Godin relayed to the Krypton team in New York, shame on us if we choose not to personalize the experience of our product, app, website, or anything else in this world of digital flexibility and infinite possibility. In the past, we had to play to the middle because that was the only way to sell enough widgets to make our quarterly numbers.
Now, we can play to the long tail, to the individual, to the curious visitor and make them feel at home. This doesn’t make it easy – catering an email experience for the subscriber’s location or interests is difficult. Creating a great user experience for multiple personas is a real challenge. No, it’s not easy, but it is the next step in designing a great customer experience.
If you play to the middle in today’s world, you’re playing a losing game. You might coast on that strategy for a bit longer, but the bar will be consistently raised until you’ve been left behind. On the other hand, if you play to be remarkable, extraordinary, and special in catering to your customer, I suspect the future will be bright.
So that’s the world we live in, according to what I’m seeing and hearing out there in my work. 15 trends that every young professional (and organization) should be aware of.
My every prediction may not be right, but these are the trends as I see them. Take what makes sense to you and use it, leave the rest behind.
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