Monday, May 20, 2019

How important is the 'skill' of reinventing yourself?

This is in continuation of my last post on conversation with a dear friend of mine Ashok Thiruvengadam (founder and CEO of Stag Software). Ashok had reached out to record a video on the theme of  “Reinventing yourself in these changing times

[Ashok] How important is the skill of reinventing yourself?

[Anuj] I would like to start with mentioning a book that had a profound impact on me- The Medici Effect. Medicis were the family from Florence, Italy (in 17th century maybe) who we're credited to
have brought together the professionals from various fields like Architects, Engineers, Town Planners, Doctors, Writers and many more. They helped form this community of progressive people with divergent views. Interestingly, the resultant amalgamation of ideas brought forward by this community is credited to have formed the genesis of a phase in history called as Renaissance.

The moot point here is that if we allow the different fields to intersect, the magic happens.
Now, you can question why this magic does not happen very often. One of the things that I learned earlier on my career was that the biggest obstacle in our careers is not the external forces but it is more often yourself.

Your biggest troll is not the one hiding somewhere in social media with a faceless image but your biggest troll is that negative voice that resides between your two ears. It is this pessimistic voice that routinely tells you that 'you can't achieve this goal', 'you don't have the talent' etc.

Being restricted with this thinking makes us believe that we cannot try out new things, cannot learn new areas and do not give enough chance for things to merge together.

All this is related to the topic of reinvention in my opinion. I have seen companies reinvent in the course of their lifetime. Citrix is an relevant case in the point. Citrix was founded in 1989, when internet was still a university project, Windows was as old as v2.1, Dotcom bust was way too far, mobile revolution hasn't happened yet, social media didn't exist. For a company to have seen through the transitions so drastic, it must know the art of reinvention. It's just the testimony to all the right reasons that lead to longevity of the organization.

At the same time, we have examples like Nokia smart phones that within a short period of time fell from being a market leader to being almost extinct when Apple came into scene.

My hypothesis after studying these extreme examples is that the companies that followed the compass approach as against the maps approach survived and thrived. Compass is something that gives you a sense of direction of where you are headed to and that sense of direction comes from being aware of what is happening in your field whereas the maps tell you how to go from point A to point B and not worry too much about what's happening beyond that.

The same analogy works well with careers as well. If you follow compass approach, we would be encouraged to figure out what is happening in our ecosystem, understanding it's implications and define the next steps accordingly. And if you follow the maps approach, your thinking is limited to talking about what the next step in growth is. The growth as defined by career paths e.g. moving from Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer etc. The problem with maps approach to careers is that while you may be happy chasing the next step in probably the wrong ladder, while the world around you may be changing at a pace unknown to you.

One of the thinkers that I have been impressed with his Ravi Venkatesan who was earlier the CEO of Microsoft India and played very different roles in his career. In one of the conversations, I remember him saying:
We should not be fooled into thinking that we have lifelong careers. At any time, we should be able to stand on our feet and deal with the challenges that comes with uncertainty.

Anything that you and me know today is either going to be obsolete or would need to be overhauled in 2-3 years time. One line of thought leading from this is that we should study and learn continuously and keep ourselves up-to-date, which is very obvious given the times. Other line of thought is that we should be thinking of Reinvention as a skill. We don't often give it a stature of a skill because there is say no designated credits or say a certification (on a lighter note) like 'Certified Career Reinvention Expert'.

In order for us to be relevant, we should be thinking of reinvention as a skill and what cones with it is aspects like ability to unlearn something, ability to give up your expertise while embracing something that's more relevant for the future, not getting hung on to the status quo for too long and so on and so forth.
Even though the career paths gives us the comfort, we should be forcing ourselves to reinvent ourselves

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