Business performance: Mindset matters
Is the future largely a case of ‘technology or people’ OR ‘technology AND people’? The short answer is that it is up to you.
Believing the former, you’ll need to take no further action. If your professional role is to essentially follow a process, then at some point a piece of technology or a new app will render you redundant. Consequently, technology programmes make you nauseous. Each day you wonder whether today is ‘the day’.
Why do you work for peanuts?
Luckily, your work is so procedural that you can largely disguise your chronic anxiety. But occasionally it reveals itself via a sarcastic comment to a colleague or losing it with your partner over an inconsequential matter.
There might be a bit more to your job than being a process monkey. Great sales people are smart and know when to ditch the playbook in pursuit of the deal. But then one day the industry consolidates into a handful of electronic exchanges and thus humans are no longer required.
Career advisor RIP
So the question arises as to how you stay economically safe. If the world is so uncertain, what advice do you dole out to your children in respect of careers and skills? The bad news for professional career advisors is that this uncertainty has brought the era of careers to an end. In respect of skills, we are entering what might be termed the post-skills era. Traits are more important. Traits such as creativity, adaptability and resilience.
How attractive are you?
So having addressed the unsavoury ‘people or technology’ matter, let’s explore the more optimistic ‘people and technology’. Unfortunately, this will only occur when you can offer something of value that is beyond the capability of a robot or an algorithm.
Much like the mating game, your existence is not sufficient to make you attractive.
You need to bring something genetically useful to the table. Reading upbeat articles about humans and robots setting off into the horizon holding hands will be nothing more than romantic fiction for those that are not prepared to work on their attractiveness.
In my advisory work, I use the notion of the cognitive athlete to represent what it will increasingly mean to stay economically relevant going forward. The cognitive element highlights that this is where we can outperform tech.
We will never win in situations where big datasets are involved, so forget competing in Chess or Go.
However when it comes to small datasets (reading the emotions of a client), contextualisation (the client is only wielding a baseball bat to make a point) and creativity (quickly come up with a resolution to the client’s problem that dulls their anger and saves you a trip to the hospital), we have the upper hand. As I have mentioned many times, innovation is critical to organisational existential sustainability, and humans, through their creative capability are key to innovation.
Chariots of fire
The athlete element refers to the mindset needed to become a world-class innovator. Remember, with the transition to an open talent model (a marketing re-invention of the term freelance contractor), you are competing on the world stage.
Athletes continually seek performance improvement and schedule time to do this. How much time per week do you spend honing your capability, rather than simply just doing your job? The best athletes embody the Corinthian spirit. The money is the by-product.
Athletes are prepared to make hard decisions now to achieve their goal. The unofficial US marine’s motto ‘embrace the suck’ captures the requisite mindset. Top athletes, rockstars and actors might look shiny on the red carpet, but their beaming smiles belie the hard unglamourous graft needed to get there.
But it’s the process
Ironically, becoming world class is a process. Ultimately innovation itself is a process. However industrial process work is not cognitively demanding. Eventually it becomes so ingrained that even if you accidently fall asleep, no one will notice. No brain power required.
Athletic process is different. It involves pain, frustration and failure. It is referred to as deliberate practice. The pain comes from the reality that athletes, whether they be track based or virtuoso musicians, are reengineering their own nervous system. A cocktail of passion and purpose is sufficient anaesthetic. Steven Kottler in his book, The Art of Impossible nails the details.
But one caveat. Adaptability is not an athletic universal. Sprinters just sprint. Should professional sprinting go out of fashion, sprinters might successfully transition into another sport where speed is valued, but it will require a lot of work. Badminton players just hit shuttlecocks. They could transition to tennis, but again it will require a significant adjustment.
I encourage you to develop your professional alter ego around athletes who must constantly adapt to their environment.
Mixed martial arts and parkour come to mind. Whilst the former is bound by some rules, there are a sufficiently high number of variables to make each fight a trip into the unknown.
As a cognitive athlete, your brain, or more specifically your nervous system, is your money maker. Your ability to continually develop your nervous system such that it can deal with whatever the day throws at it is key.
You might feel a little dispirited. It all sounds like hard work. And it is. But keep in mind that your ancestors were cognitive athletes. And they were good. So good, that you are here today.
So, by way of a pep talk, do you really want to bring shame on your family? Get after it!