Newsflash: The world is changing fast, the future is not what it used to be and all that.
It used to be people went to school, specialized and that took care of that: they milked that good old education for a lifetime. A secure job ensued, a steady climb up the ladder. Success. Respectability. Peace of mind. A golden watch down the line.
Not anymore. Many of the things that defined your chosen vocation will have become obsolete or irrelevant by the time you graduate. Knowledge – being one click away – has been commoditized and the economy of hard skills is so volatile that investing in it may limit your options more than expanding them, long term. Entire industries disappear overnight and whole new categories of work emerge. Automation and AI are getting better & cheaper, fast.
All of this may sound a bit hectic. It shouldn’t. Quite the opposite: this is exactly how opportunity knocks. As the rules of the game are changing, the playing field levels. The proverbial outsider has a real chance in a world until recently dominated by ol’boys and the privileged. As the future becomes less certain, the game boils down to a handful of killer skills that will make you succeed regardless of the direction your particular industry or the shape and form that the future will take. Figure these skills out, perfect them and you’re due for a sweet ride into the future. These killer skills will help you whatever your persuasion: company person, employee, entrepreneur. Or serial pivoteur.
- Killer skill no. 1. Be tech savvy. Whatever your job is, there is a way to be better at it and more productive by applying the right technology, correctly. I cannot believe that this is not more obvious (I have written about it elsewhere). The professional world is filled to the brims with technically inept people forever struggling to comprehend the new world they live in. They rely on IT staff and interns and their children and nephews to guide them through this incomprehensible reality and they marginalize themselves with every failure to understand the technology that is increasingly defining their professional lives. With their refusal to understand and embrace technology they drive themselves into irrelevance clearing out the way, basically, for the appropriately skilled to move in. You.
- Killer Skill no. 2. Be data-savvy. Whatever you do for a job, by using data you can do it better. You can bet your a** there is useful data out there that can give you an edge. Learn how to collect it, how to read it and how to crunch it. Also, learn how to visualize it – because once you picked a signal in the data, you will want to communicate that: to your boss, to your colleagues, to your partner or your clients. You need nothing more than excel (or google sheets, which is free). Don’t know how to use it? See below.
- Killer Skill no. 3. Be a self-learner. First of all accept that you need to learn new stuff, all the time. The good news: whatever it is you want to learn, there’s someone who put a tutorial online, complete with step-by-step break-downs and pictures and copy-paste-able strings of code. You can learn all sorts of awesome stuff right there on your couch. Do it all the time. Use it to your advantage.
- Killer Skill no. 4. Broaden the definition of your job. And at all cost avoid defining yourself through the tools or the means of your job. Do you write code or do you build products? Do you do accounting or do you handle resources. Do you send emails or do you communicate?
- Killer Skill no. 5. Know when to cut your losses. If you were around the mid-90s you may have witnessed the despair in the eyes of people who graduated from corporate training programs designed to help them use the damn fax machine, the day they had to accept that the fax machine is gone (“Unfair!”). You’ve invested to get where you are. Time. Money. Heart. But sometime it’s time to let go, cut your losses and do it all again. Understand that the killer skill is not knowing how to use the fax machine, but knowing how to adapt to whatever comes next.
- Killer skill no. 6. Increase your tolerance to uncertainty. Not sure which way your industry/ job is going? There is great opportunity in that if you embrace it. Uncertainty is the new certainty. Great news for people who keep a steady hand and an open mind.
Best news of all? None of these skills require formal education of large investments. In fact, they are democratic and are built around an attitude component rather than some expensively acquired ability or the lottery of birth. It is all a mind game. And you get better at it with practice. You also take a life-time to refine them.
Of course none of this is to dis highly specialized folks (I am looking at you, neurosurgeons and rocket scientists and their peers), but even highly specialized folks will be better at their highly specialized jobs if they acquire the skills above.
Also worth noting: the bar is so low among your peers that you will immediately notice the effects in your job. I am sure this is the case in any industry, but I know for a fact that in my own industry these skills are so rare that I have vouched to offer employment on the spot to anyone I meet who is dedicated to perfecting them.