Reinvention is the Key to Relevance

Lifetime learning is more important than ever before, and in the decades to come, our livelihoods will come to depend on it.

I first got to thinking about this, after I read the statement below in Thomas Friedman’s excellent “Thank You for Being Late“. Reflecting on the impact that mass automation will have on the global workforce, Friedman’s advice for keeping up is as follows:

“Like everything else in the age of accelerations, securing and holding a job requires dynamic stability… The future will belong to those who have the self-motivation to take advantage of all the free and cheap tools flowing out [of the Internet]”

If you’re not thinking about the implications of this already, you should be.

The statement above is symptomatic of a paradigm shift. Globalization, mass automation, and technological advancement are all happening at an increasing rate, and in the long run, this will transform entire industries. Some new jobs will be created, but many will be wiped out altogether. Indeed, it’s conceivable that in the future, many industries will be run with a relatively small investment in human capital.

This is not hyperbole – in fact, it’s something that’s already happening today:

  • McDonald’s recently announced that it will be replacing cashiers with kiosks in 2,500 locations across the United States, and mobile ordering will be rolled out in 14,000 locations as well. McDonald’s CEO is on the record saying that no jobs will be culled in the short-term, but it remains to be seen what the longer-term implications of this will be.
  • Factories in China are increasingly moving to fully automated manufacturing lines as an answer to rising wages across the country.

  • South Korea is preparing to roll out robotic customer service agents and cleaning staff at Seoul International Airport, as a pilot program for other key transport links in the country.

These headlines are outliers today, but they’ll be the norm tomorrow. This isn’t cause for alarm now, but it does underscore how critical learning new skills can be for future-proofing one’s career.

In fact, in this day and age, I’d argue that the ability to reinvent oneself is a critical life skill.

Learning high-value skills is no longer optional in today’s workplace. It’s a requirement, whether you’re an office worker at a financial services firm, a gas station manager, or a freelance web developer.

The coming innovations in automation and machine learning affect all of us, and it’s up to us to ensure we remain relevant (read: employable, either by others or ourselves) in the years ahead.

That said, reinvention doesn’t require you to completely change the course of your life in a single day. This kind of fundamental change takes months to come to fruition. That said, I ask myself the following questions each day to help keep my focus on track:

  • Was the work I did today fulfilling, and did I feel it positively impacted the lives of others?

  • Will the skills I used today to do my job be relevant in the future?

  • If what I do today will be replicated by a machine tomorrow, how can I learn new skills to stay ahead of the technological innovation curve?

  • How could my career be transformed by the new skills I’m learning today?

I know this post is ultimately about skill development, but I include the first bullet point here because belief in your personal vision is critical to success in the workplace, and life. If the work you’re doing isn’t fulfilling, chances are it just might be repetitive, unfulfilling, or downright boring. Nearly any job with these characteristics is either ripe for automation in the future, or it might just not be a great fit for you.

Of course, not everyone can just quit their job right away, or immediately learn a high-value set of skills. What I’m advocating here is methodically seeking out the high-value skills that you can learn over time, and use in the long run to achieve your goals. This will help fortify your skill set against the oncoming onslaught of automation, and as a bonus, it’ll make you more marketable to your clients / employer. This is what reinvention is all about.

During my time at LinkedIn, one of our key principles was that of the “Next Play”. It’s the implicit recognition that everyone will have a life after their current job (a “Next Play”, if you will), and that it’s our responsibility to always be thinking about what that Next Play will look like, regardless is it’s at another company or of our own making. Indeed, in the years ahead, increasing numbers of us will likely be creating our own jobs. That’s what I’m doing now, as I recently launched this website and am working on entering the digital publishing space.

With that in mind – what’s your next play?

What new skill have you always wanted to learn? Is there a new project you’ve been thinking about for a while, but just haven’t started yet? There’s no time like the present to get started.

The technological progress coming over the next several years will likely cause unprecedented changes to many industries. It’s up to us to stay ahead of these changes, and transform our lives in the process.

Resources for Reinvention

There’s a lot of resources out there for learning new skills and reinventing oneself, but these are some of my favorites. Got any others that you refer back to daily? Feel free to share in the comments!

Teach yourself how to program using Codecademy, a free site that has launched the development careers of literally thousands of programmers. It’s easy to get started, and if you’re dedicated, the payoff can be huge.

Pick up a new language with Duolingo, which is constantly adding new languages, and while you’re at it, make some new friends around the world and start doing a language exchange with iTalki.

Learn new professional skills on Lynda, which was recently purchased by LinkedIn and incorporated into its online platform. There’s thousands of high-quality video courses to choose from on everything from coding to photography, and for a very low price.

Turn yourself into a writer by publishing your first book through Amazon Kindle, or a related platform. I’m actually doing this now, as I’m writing on a step-by-step guide to moving to another country as a way to dip my feet into the waters of self-publishing.