If I see one more headline on how to “recession proof your career,” I will have to scream – or write a column about why it is time to stop this foolishness.
Believing in silver bullets in the form of industries and jobs immune to cuts and hoping that making nice-nice with the boss will keep you in good graces no matter what is just putting off the inevitable.
I get that you want to protect yourself. That you want to hold on to what you’ve got or leap to what might (if you’re lucky) last forever. When “times are bad, fear and loathing capture our imagination,” said New York Times columnist Joe Nocera in early October. “We take actions to protect ourselves – like banks refusing to lend to other banks – even though these individual actions result in a kind of cumulative madness. That is where we are now.”
And that is where so many workers – perhaps you – are now, crossing your fingers and instinctively ducking for cover from corporate belt-tightening. Or looking to take refuge in an industry that appears to have a few good years left or won’t crash and burn anytime soon. But the answer to your career woes is not a death grip on the past or a life jacket to a job with a possible foreseeable future. It’s time for original thinking.
Hundreds of businesses and industries you would have thought had no chance have thrived by changing their thinking, and there’s plenty to learn from them. Look at bicycle manufacturers, who when faced with a threat of obsolescence, “managed to creatively invent themselves,” says Catherine Rampell in a New York Times article. Take radio, pronounced dead in 1953. Then the industry revitalized itself, tapping into new markets, finding neglected markets and changing the business model.
Some companies “made radical transitions to new products and new industries, and survived through evolution, not preservation.” Others, such as Apple and Microsoft, were created during economic downturns. It all took inventive thinking.
Companies that “have survived technological challenges have in common some combination of perseverance, creativity, versatility and luck,” said the article. And if you are going to survive the challenges of today’s economy, you will need the same.
For the moment, you may need Plan A, which, in the event that your job is cut, focuses on paying the bills. But Plan B is where original thinking comes in to leverage opportunities and create your bigger career picture. Here are some questions to get your started:
• What direction is my industry headed and what should I do to prepare for it?
• If I’m not sure of that direction, what do I need to do to figure it out?
• What social, economic, political, environmental, cultural and technological forces are affecting my field?
• What skills need fine tuning and what knowledge needs to be updated?
• What new markets can I tap into with my skills and knowledge?
• What are the neglected markets that need what I have to offer?
• How can I change my own business model to meet the changing needs of my industry or another one?
• What’s a natural evolution for me based on my experience and what the world needs?
Like companies, with original thinking, you can thrive and do great work even in difficult times. As Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, said recently: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Andrea Kay is the author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful.” Send questions to her at 2692 Madison Rd., #133, Cincinnati, OH 45208; www.andreakay.com or www.lifesabitchchangecareers.com. She can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.