I was working with a client yesterday and she expressed a fear that is common to many people these days. This woman is extremely intelligent, highly successful, and well disciplined, yet she has the fear of being professionally and technically left behind.
It’s a reasonable fear. The world is changing quickly, driven largely by the pace of technology innovation. Twenty years ago everyone was aware that computers were changing the face of business, but the general perception was that computers were the domain of ‘computer people.’ 15 years ago business sociologists were telling us that the big chasm between Baby Boomers and Generation Y would be a difference in work ethic. Today it is apparent that Boomers are alienated by technology that their Gen Y counterparts take for granted.
Emerging manufacturing technology highlights the insufficiency of tool and die skills without computer aided design skills. Marketers who can’t navigate high end software and challenging database environments fall behind. Warehouse workers interact at a high level with automation tools such as mini-computers strapped to their wrists. Artists and craftspeople must master the demands of having their own websites – or at least be capable of providing direction to a website developer and manager. And the business executive who can’t independently navigate the myriad of internet and wireless protocols can get shut out of their business for days on end (or drive some poor IT support person crazy at all hours).
The challenges go beyond computerized workstations. Defined benefits and company-provided pension plans have given way to individual structuring of retirement strategies – leading to a requirement that all individuals understand markets and economics and investment strategies – which themselves become more complex every year. Competition is constantly changing as the barriers to entry for new business continue to shrink. Even our communication is evolving rapidly as language becomes more technical.
Some people have opted out of the whole problem by declining to develop computer or technical skills. I don’t consider this an option. Anyone reading this blog would agree that the inability to read or write is a guarantee of economic deprivation. I believe computer illiteracy will contribute to a similar result in the near future (and to a certain extent, already is). If you moved to a non-English speaking country, you could not expect to gain successful employment or integrate into society without speaking the language. In the case of computers and technology, the other language has moved here, and everyone must be proficient. When a normally intelligent person “can’t” learn a new skill, resistance – not aptitude – is generally the culprit. Ending residual computer resistance will open the door to new competencies quickly for most people.
But what about my client, the very smart executive who is worried about keeping up? In her case, we discussed what she is afraid of keeping up with or in. She has broad business responsibilities, but they are not all-encompassing. So we made a list of the general areas of knowledge in which she can’t afford to fall behind, and then we identified a few key resources to help her stay on top of her game. After evaluating the field of possibilities, she decided she will need to incorporate two new monthly magazines, one weekly magazine, and 4-6 training classes (online or live) each year to sufficiently supplement her knowledge. In addition, she will enhance her project and decision-making work by including more research, particularly research of a peer-reviewed or academic nature. I could almost see her cortisol levels drop as she realized she could design a strategy for staying ahead of her game.
For anyone who plans to work past the age of 60, making a plan for staying au courant in the important developments of their chosen profession is a wise move. The knowledge that sort of stumbles onto us is a gift from the universe. But the knowledge we planfully acquire is an important gift we give ourselves.
(c) 2007, Andrea M. Hill