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21st Century Opportunities

21st Century Opportunities

21st Century Opportunities

    Productivity expert Jason Womack is working on a project aimed at teenagers on the careers of tomorrow.  He asked me to contribute a few ideas, and he graciously agreed to let me turn it into an article for Lifehack.org.  From where I sit, there are a couple of very broad categories in which people can expect to excel in the future:

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    1.  Data Analysis

    Data and computation have never been cheaper than they are this morning.  They are cheaper than when I first wrote this in October, they will be cheaper this afternoon, and they will be even cheaper this time tomorrow. 

    What is not falling in price, however, is analytical ability.  The ability to find intelligible information in a very noisy world will be of great value in the future.  If I were sixteen and knew what I know now, I would focus my time and energy on mastering the theory of probability and on learning an analytical social science like economics. 

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    This comes with an important caveat: the ability to perform statistical computations by pressing a few buttons on a computer is very different from knowing what the output means and how to apply it.  Statistical computations will be almost costless in the future: there are a number of excellent, free statistical software packages floating around, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Google Stats” is in the offing somewhere. 

    The real value added, though, comes from knowing what the computations mean.  A disconcerting fact about the way science is done today is that while a lot of it is very computation-heavy, the results are often interpreted incorrectly not just by the media outlets who report on them, but by the scientists doing the investigation. 

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    For more on this, I encourage people with advanced training in statistics to read Ziliak and McCloskey’s The Cult of Statistical Significance, which I reviewed for Economic Affairs recently (a draft of my review is available on the Social Science Research Network at www.SSRN.com).

    2.  Product Design

    The cost of manufacturing goods continues to plummet, and as it gets cheaper and cheaper the value will be added not by the physical production process but by the design process.  Understanding people’s goals and what they will actually use products for will be a way to add value going forward. (To this end, I highly recommend Donald Norman’s The Design of Future Things, which I expect to review in this space sometime soon).

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    3.  “Technology Ecology” 

    This is kind of like tech support, but different.  As production costs continue to fall, part of value added in design will be in workplace design, or what might be called “Technology Ecology.”  Integrating the material of the last millennium (paper) with the material of the new millennium (silicon) is of paramount importance, and there are many margins on which to add value by designing workspaces.  The computer has been inserted into a work environment designed for people pushing pieces of paper across a desk, and many workspaces are fundamentally mid-twentieth century workspaces specked with a variety of early twenty-first century tumors.  Adapting the workspace to new technology will be an important way to help people add value in the future.

    4.  Financial management

    Economic and financial illiteracy is rampant in the United States and in the world, and there is room to add value by helping people better manage their money.  My wife is a CPA and I have a PhD in economics, and one of the most valuable lessons we’ve both learned is that “active management” or trying to “play the market” is a non-starter.  We enjoy a lot of peace of mind by socking our money away in passively-managed index funds.  A lot of poeple don’t know what “index funds” are, which means that they are leaving a lot of money on the table.

    5.  Personal nutrition and training

    As life expectancy increases, we will want to do all we can to increase the quality of our later years.  It has been said that “sixty is the new forty,” and as society gets wealthier there will be a lot of room to add value by helping people stay “fit and effective,” to steal a phrase from Jason.  Information filtering will grow in importance as the amount of information increases, and as we get richer more of us will find it to our advantage to outsource nutrition- and exercise-related information processing.

    A rapidly changing world creates enormous challenges, but these enormous challenges are also enormous opportunities.  The early twenty-first century presents us with incalculable opportunities to engage our creative faculties, and the fields I mention here are only a few of the areas in which those opportunities will emerge.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

    You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

    Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

    “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

    It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

    Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

    As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

    As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

    Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

    Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

    1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

    When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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    Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

    2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

    Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

    But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

    If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

    Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

    3. Go to All Office Networking Events

    Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

    If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

    Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

    Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

    The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

    Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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    4. Show Initiative

    Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

    Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

    Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

    5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

    Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

    Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

    6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

    A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

    Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

    Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

    A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

    Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

    Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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    These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

    Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

    7. Find a Mentor

    With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

    Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

    Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

    Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

    8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

    After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

    What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

    Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

    Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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    You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

    9. Set Your Professional Bar High

    Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

    Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

    Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

    Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

    The Bottom Line

    Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

    “Half of life is showing up.”

    The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

    Remember, your career is your business!

    More About Continuous Growth

    Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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